The National Speakers’ Association once stated that the most important change speakers could make to be more effective would be to be more facilitative. By that they meant the use of interaction, solicitation, and capture of participants’ ideas. Whether you are a speaker, teacher, coach, or traditional facilitator, it is good to develop competence using easels, large Post-It® paper, and broad chiseled markers.  Here are some tips for you or your documentor. Paper continues to offer superior benefits to digital capture because most complex issues cannot be fully rendered or understood with one screen of bulleted items. Additionally, if it is not documented, it did not happen.

“Never use computer applications for something that you do not understand and cannot first do yourself.”
—Francis Webster Jr

Begin with good materials and supplies. Few things will frustrate an expert facilitator more than cheap paper and poor quality easels.  Most will carry their own, preferred markers. Large, Post-It style presentation sheets provide immediate and visual feedback to participants. Working with paper makes it faster to edit and refer to work that was drafted or completed earlier. When working with easel sized paper, consider the following tips:

  • Anticipate where sheets will be mounted. Be sensitive about everyone’s sight lines. Save your prime, center real estate for scrubbing and scoring ideas during each agenda step.
  • Banners orheadlinesprovide an excellent opportunity for iconic support and color splash.Theycan be created in advance and when unveiled, connote a strong sense of preparation and importance.

    Easel Sample

  • Experts suggest using a minimum of three colors per sheet. Only use black or dark blue for primary content. Use red for edits and scoring, use green for linking, or edits (shows chronological shift).  Use lighter colors for grid lines, table lines, or illustrations.
  • Pre-drawn illustrations (in pencil or light marker) enable you to draw over thin lines with broad markers in the session as needed.
  • Rip, do not flip, completed pages. Participants need to see their prior work and a bunch of flipped sticky pages get caught up in a clump that is difficult to disentangle.
  • Save valuable real estate along the left hand column, defaulting to hyphens of indented items that may be further defined or scored during the analysis step with a prioritization tool.
  • Use flip chart graph paper with blueline squares to keep the size of writing consistent. Try out the size of the letters before the session to see if the person farthest away can read them. Capital letter should be two to three inches tall and lower case letters should be one to two inches in height.
  • Visual displays that are illustrative, iconic, and colorful are proven to stimulate participants and increase the quality of their contributions and feedback.
  • Wedge tips markers are best for writing and pointed tip markers are good for highlights. Use the broad side or flat edge of the wedge tip so that your writing is visible from six to eight meters.
  • You may speed up the capture process during the ideation step of Brainstorming by using two scribes (ie, documentors). Work this out in advance, and if relying on a participant for help, give him or her some time at the end to add his or her own ideas.

For additional and specific product recommendations, see your FAST Session Leader reference manual or refer to the Alumni Only resource section of our web site. Specifically, the document entitled Facilitator’s Tool Kit lists many of the items that can be used to support more effective facilitation through the use of easels.

“The problem with digitizing brainstorming is that we don’t need to save what we brainstorm . . . The critical thing is the conclusion . . . The slick brainstorming capture tools . . . Will probably not be as successful as hoped. There are significant differences among collecting and processing and organizing, and different tools are usually required for them.” [pg 271] — David Allen, Getting Things Done

Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiatives, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need to lead more effective groups, teams, and meetings.

Become Part of the SolutionImprove Your Facilitation and Methodology Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics of an effective facilitator and methodologist. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership-training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you’re working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and numerous tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

Facilitation Expert

Terrence Metz is CEO of MG RUSH Facilitation Training and Coaching, the acknowledged leader in structured facilitation training. His FAST Weekly Facilitation blog features over 300 articles on facilitation skills and techniques aimed at helping others lead faster, more productive meetings and workshops that yield higher quality decisions. His clients include program and project managers, senior officers, and the business analyst community among numerous private and public companies and global corporations. As an undergraduate of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and MBA graduate from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on process improvement and product innovation. His aspiration is to make it easier for others to succeed.

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