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Effective Meetings –Tables? Walls? and use of space (29.03.2016)

For better meetings, do we need tables? Should we march people to walls, leaving a huge void in the room? Room layout is an essential part of facilitation skills.

I guess the answer to layout is that it depends on what you are doing and wanting to achieve. Presentations and briefings are straightforward. However, let’s concentrate on meetings and trainings that are looking for total engagement by the group and ending with a fully owned and realistic outcome - such as an action plan.

PinpointMy view is that for group engagement, tables are a barrier between the trainer/facilitator and the group. It rather creates a ‘them’ and ‘me’ situation. The action is at the front unless there is a specific activity for the group to carry out. The group is essentially passive.

PinpointPurpose designed pinboards really help create true engagement because they become the centre of the discussion and both facilitator/trainer and group have complete physical and visual access. Single tables or swing boards allow a working surface maintaining ‘access’ to the front. Tables may be O.K. for group work, but even then it’s better to have delegates on their feet using a large pinboard or two.

Taking people over to a wall leaves the room empty and all action is in one spot. To me it feels wrong. Again pinboards have the answer. You can use space all over the room whether working as a plenary or in sub groups.

You can present information with pre-prepared cards or pictures and importantly, you and the group can make more as you go along. The real benefit here is that it gets away from death by PowerPoint. Boards make for an animated presentation with a chance for the group to ‘card’ responses and thoughts. They create a real time recording of discussions, ideas generation and decisions made. Carding stops repetition, speeds the process and engages the group because they ‘do’ they don’t just talk.

The end result? A committed group, keen to get a result that they truly feel will work. In my experience getting that last requirement for committed action is never like drawing teeth, it’s just happens – it’s the end of the flow.

Breakout rooms. Good idea? (09.03.2016)

If you use them, have a think about this: How it affects the ‘dynamic’ you would have already set up. Read more


Unless you need secrecy – say, in a negotiations training - breakout rooms are disruptive and should be avoided.


You as facilitator or trainer have met up with your group, set the objectives, started to make progress and got to the point where you need to multi–task options for detailed discussion in sub groups or you need to get different perspectives on the same topic from sub groups. The room you are in is ‘home’. It feels OK for the whole group because your skills made it feel OK. Then you ask sub groups to go to various rooms spread across the venue to deep think and come back with their, for example, qualified ideas for action ready to share with the others.

What happens?

Disturbance – people get up, collect a few bits and move on.  This takes time.

All assemble in their new space and it’s a new meeting.  It’s a quiet, perhaps cold room. The dynamic has gone.

A bit of chat before getting down to the task and then, unless there is a good facilitator in the sub group (who has been on a facilitation skills course or not) there is potential for the normal meeting issues to arise –
Discussion over a topic that later becomes unimportant
Re-discuss a decision already made
The windbags can take off
The quiet reflectors will stay quiet.

At some stage you, the facilitator or trainer, enter the room to check on progress. Regardless of how things are going you are now an interruption – you are a new person in the room. You say what you need to and go away.

The sub group gets back to discussion and then suddenly
time runs out and there is a rush to get some sort of presentation ready.
Now someone or some people present their group’s findings – well what they think the group found. These presentations can be brilliant but are often stilted, hesitant and soporific.

Finally, there is more discussion to get a plenary view, consensus and ownership. (Not easy!)

Another way:
For better meetings organise a big room so that all the sub groups can stay in the same room working around their own pinboard(s) spread around that room.  The groups work standing up, active with their pens, cards and boards.  Minimum 2 people maximum 5 people per sub group.

What happens?
You maintain the ‘dynamic’
There is a buzz of activity
You are in the room and never an intruder because you are all in it together
You are on hand for help
You can see when a group is struggling or going off on a tangent
You can make an intervention without being an interruption
You can encourage
There is a bit of a positive, competitive atmosphere
No time is wasted – and you can manage time to ensure each of the groups prepare their presentations

Now you have two options:
Presentations are done by the whole group – each doing a bit.  You manage the feedback as normal.
OR – Use an Ideas Gallery and this is my personal favourite:
No presentations!  Instead each group has time to study all the other groups’ boards.
Give them some small round cards that can be pinned next to various aspects of the action recommendations they consider to be key. They mark things they totally agree with, with a heart and things where they disagree or don’t understand with a question mark.
Each group moves around the other boards, in sequence all at the same time.
If each group puts on a heart to an aspect, you have consensus.
Where there are question marks, your debrief is now specific in those areas only and the group can go for consensus or not. 
Finally groups can fill in the action plan board.

Short video – Ideas Gallery:

Introductions around the table (25.02.2016)

Introductions around the table. Good idea? Here’s why you may want to think again...

For better meetings there are three issues to consider: Time, people’s state and people’s personality.

Time – 20 people with one minute each is 20 minutes gone forever. But how many times can you keep to the 1 minute?

“Please talk with your neighbour, find out all you can and let us know what you found out.”  5 minutes talking, 3 minutes presenting – 10 people = 35 minutes! Even longer if the presentation is a picture.

Once, at a facilitators’ conference, (all about facilitation skills) I attended a one and a half hour workshop. The first 20 minutes was introductions!  This is extreme I know, but  on this occasion, when asked, the facilitator said it was vital that everybody knew as much as possible about each other.  The workshop itself was potentially good, but rushed and did not complete.

State – We will probably find various states in these first few minutes and these will range from high anxiety to “I don’t want to be here” to “I’ve got so much on,  this event is not my priority just now.”

The state we need to teach is relaxed awareness. For facilitation the state should include a feeling of support, comfort and openness.  The mental focus should be on the event.

Personality – Confident, activist and often verbose people will be just fine with around the table introductions but if any of these are ‘High Ds” they will see it as a waste of time.

Quiet, shy, reflective people will tend to be anxious, dread their turn and feel panic.

Introductions around the tableSummary -  very few people are happy with around the table introductions and if we want the best from the group we need to think of another way. We need to get them in the right state as soon as possible. The last thing we want is for people to feel alienated.

Another way  - is to get the introductions done as people arrive.  Have an ‘Entry Board’  where people’s names are displayed and they can write up answers to a couple of questions.  The questions need to be appropriate to the group and the event objective.  For people meeting the first time you could ask, ”A little bit about me is…..”  For people who know each other well, “Something about me that nobody in this room knows is….”  Other questions could be, “What I want from today is…..”  “When I hear the word ‘management’ my first thought is….” 

As people arrive, over their coffee, they fill in their slot and this, with a bit of help from you, starts a discussion between the participants. We can see how prepared people are. We can see individual needs. We, and they, have an idea of who is who and who is wanting what.  As the meeting progresses people get to know each other better.

Go to:  https:// and see a video showing more.

For more information go to  or phone Keith Warren-Price at Pinpoint Facilitation on +44 (0) 1235 512400 

Running successful meetings is not rocket science! (28.01.2016)

– although the mass of literature, training and navel gazing says it should be.

What goes wrong in meetings?

You are able, no doubt, to make your own extensive list.

It will be predictable, on going and it never changes.

So one thing is sure. Current literature and training is not working and we need to think differently.

The classic model of behavior is the good old iceberg metaphor.

Above the table we see behaviors, we hear talking, we see visuals, we have papers. Chairing skills ensure we have an agenda, the right people are present, there is progress and agreement as we go. Conflict is sorted and everybody should be happy – if only……..


Below the table it all happens and this is where the detailed literature and training piles in. Solutions for every eventuality. Academics at their most prolific looking logically at an answer to every feeling, every emotion, every working style, detail, detail, detail.

The real solution.

BE DIFFERENT. Work in a method and use tools that make the ‘below the table’ fade away – out of sight, of no influence. Depending on the degree of need for documents get rid of tables or have a room where you can break away from the table and work in free uncluttered space.

Stop being a chair person and be a catalyst.

Don’t show too many slides – if any.

Manage the discussion in a way other than talking.

Record visually every input, decision, query and disagreement (but not on a flip chart!)

Keep all members active (physically and intellectually) all of the time.

Allow quiet people to be quiet and windbags to be unrestricted (but not verbally!)

Don’t use breakout rooms.

There are many theories about people’s behavior so bear in mind those that you feel have some validity (they all have huge similarities!).

Here are two you may wish to consider.

Honey and Mumford’s

Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence

These are some of the issues where ‘normal’ meetings go wrong:

Sitting around a table, unable to get up or move

Going around the table inviting contributions

No breaks

Bad PowerPoint slides full of text

Verbal discussion

Repetition of deep felt views

Long-winded contributions

Quiet/Shy people pressured into saying something or wishing to say something, but the meeting has moved on.

Method and tools required.

The three stages of a meeting are as normal – before, during and after.

Before – standard planning stuff: get the right people, find the right venue, work out rough timings, have a definite purpose, prepare a game plan, have a crystal clear end point.

During – this is the CHANGE!

Tools – ideally, pinboards, coloured cards, coloured pens, paper for the boards – brown or white. Flip chart. Music.

Method – Start with an entry board:(See:

This allows people to chat with a purpose on arrival, to do something on arrival and it’s an opportunity for people who don’t know each other to share some information. You can, of course, choose whatever questions are appropriate to your group and your objectives.

Get some focus – Ask a question that can be responded to by placing a sticky dot (for example) on a continuum.


Have a brief discussion about why some of the dots were placed where they were.

No decisions at this stage – it’s just an opener. The picture shows (organization’s name deleted) “How do you rate meetings in Mac.........?”

Next step - Ask a question – write it on a long card and place at the top of a board. Make sure it is the right, open question. Another could be “On what criteria should a team be judged?”


Get responses on cards. (There are many techniques to manage the numbers of cards to be processed – too few and it’s a waste of time and too many takes too long and you lose energy and engagement.) It’s by using cards that you control the verbose and the quiet – and you do this without any ‘management’ so quiet people don’t feel pressurized and the windbags can write loads of cards – not all of which they will eventually want to use.

Group the cards. Pretty normal stuff if you use Post-its but remember these cards belong to the participants not you! DON”T tell people where to group them. Get the people to tell you. AND do not have a free for all, letting the group cluster on their own. The activists will do the work, the reflectors will stand at the back and watch, the theorists will discuss and the pragmatists will probably be jumping ahead thinking about the next steps.

Put a title to each group (participants choice) and the vote to find the key points. Consensus is not normally needed at this stage – but you do need to get the group ‘feel’ for the next steps.

Now you have key points the group think to be most important you can go to your next planned step.

It may well be to break into groups and, for example, tackle solutions for problems or actions to meet opportunities. Here is another video to show this.

Keep people in the same room working in groups - ideally on pinboards - and use the buzz of activity. There is nothing worse than going into a new room for group discussion! The dynamic you have built up is lost; it’s like starting a new meeting.

The sub group recommendations or decisions can be floated to the rest of the group (there’s a technique to this) and if all agreed go on to the action plan/final board.

After – Send out photographs of EVERY board made during the meeting. These photos are the minutes of the meeting – un-doctored, unedited and real.

Add normal, standard follow up activities

For more information:

Phone Pinpoint Facilitation on 01235 512400 and ask for Keith Warren-Price or Bruce Rowling.

E-mail or

Or visit

To find out how to use the Pinpoint Facilitation Techniques we suggest you book on a course. Call Carol on 01235 512 400