Video and transcript from Vinay Kumar ‘s talk at Austin’s 3rd Annual Facilitator Summit, Control the Room

Recently, we hosted our annual facilitator summit alongside our sponsor MURAL, but this time, it was virtual. Instead of gathering in Austin’s Capital Factory, 172 eager learners, expert facilitators, and meeting practitioners gathered online for a 3-day interactive workshop. Our mission each year at Control the Room is to share a global perspective of facilitators from different methodologies, backgrounds, races, genders, sexual orientations, cultures, and ages. We gather to network, learn from one another, and build our facilitation toolkits. 

This year’s summit theme was CONNECTION. Human connection is an integral component of the work we do as facilitators.

When we connect things become possible. When we are disconnected there is dysfunction. When ideas connect they become solutions. When movements connect they become revolutions. 

Control the Room is a safe space to build and celebrate a community of practice for facilitators, which is paramount to learn, grow, and advance as practitioners and engaging in a dialogue that advances the practice of facilitation. We must learn the tools and modalities needed to foster connection and be successful facilitators in the new virtual landscape. 

“We must establish a personal connection with each other. Connection before content. Without relatedness, no work can occur.” —Peter Block

This year’s summit consisted of 18 expert facilitator guest speakers who presented lightning talks and in-depth workshops, where they shared their methods and activities for effective virtual facilitation. 

One of those speakers was Vinay Kumar.

Vinay Kumar, Director of Client Engagement at C2C Organizational Development, discussed engagement and creating meaningful connections. In this new age of digital engagement and connection, accessing ways of creating that safe and brave space allows our users to form those bonds and further goals. Using the right brain is not only fun but also helps in drawing out many aspects that participants often find difficult to articulate in a group setting. This is especially true when groups are extremely diverse in terms of experience, cultures, hierarchy, language, etc. Vinay’s workshop explored two methods in creating strong connections that increase the effectiveness of group work.

Watch Vinay Kumar’s talk “Connecting People and Thinking for Shared Values” :

Read the Transcript

Vinay Kumar:

Great. Hello, everybody. Nice to see you here, thank you for coming in. So, very quickly, the topic today is about how do you create deep connections in a virtual environment. So, I’m going to get you to think about an answer to two questions, and I’d like you to write it down and if you’re coming to my workshop later, we will deal with both questions otherwise, leave these things for me in MURAL, and I’ll make sure I get back to you.

So, the first is, if you had to introduce yourself in a metaphor as a transportation vehicle, what would it be? The second is, your top challenge in creating connections when facilitating virtual events.

So, let me introduce myself with the metaphor. If I have to think of myself as a transportation vehicle, I would say I’m like a Hummer, for a couple of reasons, and you can’t see all of me here. I am six foot, three. I’m about 250 pounds. I’m a pretty big guy so, just like a Hummer and as Douglas just said, I travel way too much, or at least used to, before the pandemic. So, that means my carbon footprint unfortunately used to be terrible. I’m probably going to downsize because of the pandemic to a small scooter or something, because my carbon footprint a lot better now. So just something to just make a note off someplace and feel free to put that in MURAL or Sharp in my workshop.

So a couple of quick things. We talk about engagement, and I’m going to give you a minute to look at these four quotes. This entire summit has a wonderful quote on it’s homepage, but I’ll let you see this, in chat, if you could just put in which code resonates the most for you. Which author maybe anonymous might show up over there. I will give you about 15 seconds to read it.

Okay, great. So, we’re talking about engagement. We’re talking about virtual connections and one of the things that I have discovered is, that a lot of us, I lead teams, I manage people, I am part of the teams. So we have our weekly connects. I get into calls with a lot of people and there’s two types of connections I’ve seen evolve over the few years. There’s what we call transactional connections and on the other side there’s also meaningful connections. Both have significant value when we are getting groups together in the virtual environment.

Now, the interesting thing is thinking about what has value when. Now, I would say, my experience and I love to hear from all of you in chat. What are some of the most common connection mechanisms used to get people together when you get them online?

 So let me just share with you a couple of the most common ones I’ve seen. Some of them are very creative starts, they’re people who use props, find something. I was part of a funny hack party recently at work, clothing, virtual backgrounds keeps changing during sessions. Lots of other ones that are work use, either in chat or Rename or feeling or something you did to check in. Something no one knows about you, that three questions that’s often done. The most common is two truths and a lie. One new skill or hobby you’ve learned in the last one year, multi renaming chances. All of these are awesome to get it started, get groups together that they’re are really useful, icebreakers, we call them energizers, there’s so many other things that are used when we talk about it.

 Now, these are all great. They serve the purpose of starting to create a safe space. Now, the interesting perspective that we talk about is, when do we need to move to more meaningful connections? Now, the reality is, where all of us, when we did most of our work in a face-to-face environment, those meaningful connections happen when. It’s before we start, it’s during the coffee breaks, it’s when we go have lunch together, it’s the evening connections and networking.

Now, these spaces that we just talked about, or these mechanisms that you see on this slide, are useful to get us going. They’re good to create a safe space. The interesting aspect is at times, we need to move from safe space to Brave space. When we’re having conversations that go deep, they’re significantly meaningful. How do you move people from a safe space to a Brave place?

Now it’s actually, how do you create a safe space and a brave space? What would we define as a brave space? I’m going to leave to your imagination, it’s something that we will dig a bit deeper. It’s in the workshop, but it’s really about when we start talking about our values, when we start bringing some of the real human side of us into it and how we do it becomes a very, very critical aspect.

So some questions and thoughts that we need to have when we’re talking about creating connections. So, one of the first questions I want to get you to think about is this one. How intense and deep the conversation needs to be during your facilitation or during when a group comes together? I was in a workshop on Monday and Tuesday, which prevented me from training day one and day two of the summit but in that workshop, we had one group that was coming together to talk about which product they are going to discard.

Now, a lot of the people in that meeting, were working on that particular product, their jobs are on the line. Mike telling them, let’s do a visual cue or let’s do a rename yourself, probably wouldn’t be enough to get them to talk and really go deep into that conversation. So one of the big things I had for me, was how do I create that brave space for them to be very open about, because I knew that conversation was going to be really intense and really deep.

The second question I want to throw out to you is, how critical is it to create a safe and brave space, to have meaningful and challenging conversations in order to achieve the outcome?

If we need people to challenge each other, we need people to say, “I don’t agree with you” or, and this is has significant life-changing impact for some of the participants showing up. It’s a question for me, that I also now have. Do I need to create that brief? Now, I want to be very clear, there are plenty of situations where we do not need to go that deep. In fact, you’re probably not necessary. It’s okay to just create a safe space, right? So, how critical is it for me to have that if I want to achieve the outcome? That’s the second question to think about. The third one is, how much value is derived in creating some time at the start of your working with the group.

I don’t know what all of you do. We, when I design a three hour engagement with Group, multiple people will always have a 10, 15 or 20 minute check-in, some kind of an activity as soon as everybody comes on. Now, is that the time? Let’s think about it. When we work with groups in a face-to-face environment, the simple truth is, we know that meaningful conversations take time and it happens with deep conversations.

 In fact, so those of you are few who ever run a meeting or facilitated a conversation of a group of people meeting together for the first time, it’s not when they walk into that room, that the connections that created. It’s maybe the little coffee and donuts or the coffee and bagel they’re having outside, or today when we started, we had those little breakout rooms, where a few of us would book you and connect with each other. So we know those connections take time, whether it’s in the virtual environment or whether it’s in the face-to-face environment. It takes time when we break for lunch and we go and sit down and ask each other questions.

 So here’s the simple truth for us. That we need to bring in the separate times space for those connections to happen. It is so critical to be able to do that. So, I’m going to invite you to put it in Jeff, how are you creating that space and time for connections to happen in virtual environments. It could be your team meeting, when you’re getting those four or five people in your team together and the other truth is if you’re a facilitator and you’re working with groups. We actually need to create that space in the virtual environment as well. So happy to see the breakout spaces, the networking spaces, all designed in a summit. It is so critical and it’s probably a lot of value that we’re getting out of that. It is even that middle space that we are putting there. It’s the Slack channel that Douglas talked about wherever we’re using ourselves.

 Now, this is an environment where many of us have come together to learn. Now, in the real world, when we are facilitating in our work contexts, we are bringing those groups together to achieve a particular outcome here. It’s learning, we can make it fun. There, that might be intense. It might lead to conflict.

So, what are some ideas? I’m going to share with you one best practice that I’ve seen and I’ve started to use in my work. Again, would love to hear from you, what are some of your ideas? Keep putting them in check, put them in MURAL. We’re going to generate a list of best practices and make it available for everybody.

Now, I wanted to share with you, a very common assumption. The common is that meaningful if you want to really create meaningful connections, you have to do it in a synchronous way. When we move into a virtual environment, do not underestimate the power of asynchronous connecting as well. We’re doing that a little bit of introducing ourselves on Slack. About 12 years ago, I was a participant in a major workshop and I saw a facilitator of that time send out a really interesting instruction to all of us.

 She said, “There’s a group of 15 people coming in. We’re going to be working together virtually across 10 cultures, nine time zones.” Most of us do not know each other. We only exchanged emails and she said “in order for us to dig deeper and go and really connect over the next few days of working together, I’d like us to introduce ourselves.” She sent out instructions for us to create a slide, with whatever we would like to share. So she said, “If you’re going to add some pictures, put some professional stuff, etc”.

This is the slide I created at that point in time and I’ve updated it as well and it became my E Introductions. Again, so if you want to get to know me a little bit, here it is. I had an amazing reaction because we had 15 of us or 12, I don’t remember the right number now, but there were 12 or 13, between 10 and 15. We had a slide deck with 15, or how many ever people there were, everybody spent hours going through it and on the first call that we got into, or even before we got into that first call. If you notice my 4th bullet point, I am a huge football fan and it’s soccer, the real football and we get in trouble with a lot of you. My team is Manchester United and there was a Liverpool fan. If any of you know between the Liverpool, Man United rivalry.

He was a Liverpool and he reached out to me before saying, “Hey, I heard you’re this.” It was hilarious. I said, “I’ve got to rub some salt in this wound”, because we had just beaten them. So, I showed up with my Man United jersey on and he showed up with his last year’s winning championship jersey on and he said, “Well, you guys just won a game today, [inaudible 00:14:34], we won the war last year, here’s my Jersey.”

It was hilarious how we were connecting and everybody was jumping into that. So, it was really asynchronous, but it came alive when we got together to connect with each other. The other interesting thing is if you look at my most interesting meeting with the Dalai Lama. It created so much curiosity. People were asking me, “What was it like spending time with him”, et cetera. So, do not underestimate our asynchronous connections as well. This is really important. In the workshop that we’re I’ll have in a little while, we’re going to to get into a few synchronous connections.

So here’s some tips that I want to just share with you. One is create that time and space before. One of the best practices I want to leave with you is, trying to create a quick connection for 15 minutes or 30 minutes in the start of a workshop. Yes, you’ll get somewhere, but there might be an opportunity to have a separate space to do this. So again, in chat, just put some of your best practices. I just want to share with you a quick story.

I’ve got a workshop coming up on Monday and Tuesday with a group where we’ve got a very significant outcome. My stakeholder has said that we need to put the elephant in the room. We’ve got to get some major issues out there and I was sitting and designing it with my colleagues and we’ve decided that if we really want these people to connect with each other and get to know each other, we need to do that beforehand.

So I have a session tomorrow, Friday, in the evening from 7:00 to 9:00 PM, where the group’s going to come together for pure networking, drinks, virtual connect session and we’ve got E introduction, we’re using a platform for people to wander around and network et cetera. A lot of people have already messaged me today, saying they’re really looking forward to that. They, in fact, haven’t even asked me about the agenda for Monday, but they’re more curious about how we connect with each other. So, the business is going to be making some very significant decisions based on what that group comes up with.

So creating a separate space? I’m not even going to do a check- in on Monday. I’m probably going to do what was the most fun thing you learned from Friday, and that’s pretty much it. So with that in the workshop, we’re going to go a little bit deeper because of how we bring value based conversations into those connections and make it meaningful and brave as well. So, I would encourage you to post your questions, share best practice, put that up there and I’d love to hear what your transportation or metaphor is on a MURAL. Put it up there and I hope to see many of you in that session. I hope you thinking about your next workshop as well. With that, thank you very much. Stay safe. I hope to connect with all of you.