Video and transcript from William Aal ‘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 William Aal.

William Aal, Co-founder and Managing Partner of, explored how to disrupt patterns of privilege and oppression that are often overlooked in meeting design in his lightning talk and workshop

 “Explore those dynamics in your facilitation practice. Have fun making the invisible visible!”

In his workshop, participants learned how to set the table for people to fully participate, taking into account the currents of power difference in the space. They also learned how to be aware of their own privilege dynamics; how to acknowledge conflict and use it as a tool to deepen community and when process becomes liberatory and when it furthers patterns of oppression.

Watch William Aal’s talk “Equity, Power and Conflict in Meeting Design” :

Read the Transcript

William Aal:

Thanks, Douglas. I’m really pleased to be here with you. I’ve been learning so much from everybody at the conference. I’ll see what I can do to throw in a little bit more about thinking about issues of power and equity in our online spaces.

So the workshop will… This afternoon, I’ll be exploring the challenges to hosting those conversations, like many of us have been doing. And in particular, looking at power dynamics in the meetings and how hidden and not so hidden dynamics can hinder the progress, and if you’re working with them well, they can actually make it easier to do the work. And since we’re in this world right now, which is, in the United States anyway, so polarized and seemingly black and white in the public spaces, I’m curious, how do we hold complexity and diversity in meetings, especially in public meetings in a way that allows us to really fully bring everybody’s voice in? And then in the afternoon, also we’ll share some facilitation and outreach tips that you might have from your own work. So just for a minute, I’d like you to pay attention to what’s happening inside your body, in your mind and in your heart.

And if you’d like you can share three words, one for each of those parts of who you are into the chat. And now just as we we’re getting into the presentation, spend another minute reflecting for yourself on why do you do the work you do? And who do you do it for?

My overall method when I think about designing meetings. First, I think about how I can create a space where each person can fully participate and how we can hold a appreciative approach to the issues that we’re facing in a way that allows us to be looking at them squarely. So when I say appreciative, it’s not about… I’m not looking at the hard places, but seeing how the hard places can actually enrich our community and enrich our being together. To look at issues of power in a transparent way, to just make it clear what’s happening in meetings, especially in multi-stakeholder meetings and to acknowledge up front what’s at stake to create a contract with each other about why we’re there and what are the operating assumptions that we’re making and what kind of values do we want to hold in this meeting or set of meetings.

               I often facilitate community groups, non-profits, people in the innovation spaces, in which there’s a lot of different people coming in a lot of different ideas and a lot of different feelings about what’s happening and a lot of different experiences that led them into the room or into the virtual space. So how do we create a space of vulnerable engagement, where we’re creating a place for us to reveal as much as we need to, to be fully human to each other and not too much that we feel exposed, but also to encourage engagement? And then I also remind myself and others that each meeting is just a part of a larger context and a longer timeline than the meeting itself. So placing each event in a moment in time and space.

And if you have one in mind you might think about what were the people’s motivations for being in the room? What did each of them bring to the table? What barriers might they have had in attending and fully participating in the conversation? And what made it possible for the attendees to show up? I’ll just give you a minute. You might want to write a few notes down for yourself or just think about it because we’ll come back to this in a little bit.

And of course, what made it possible for the attendees to show up? So if you’d like to put in the chat for others to see what you did to make it possible for people to show up fully in your meetings, you could share with each other.

And in each meeting design, whether it’s for a one-off event for an industry or for company type of event or for a community event, I’m always thinking about how do we design for equity as well as participation? And we’ll go into that a little bit more in the full workshop, but it’s about intention and impact.

 As we think about those things, we can ask ourselves how we can fully participate and how we can encourage others to fully participate, but let’s not take time to do that now.

One of the pieces, when I look at issues of power and what the impact of our decisions are in meeting design, I think about how to make the patterns of power more visible to myself and to others. And we’ll go more into this and more in depth in the workshop about this. But power, in my definition, there’s lots of different ways to look at it, but it’s a relational thing. In any one circumstance, there’s power dynamics that are happening. For me, as a Jewish man is who’s heterosexual, for example, I might feel like I’m one down in some relationships as a Jewish person, but then as a male and white, and a leader of my own business, I have more power.

So in any different circumstance, there are different things that are happening and these patterns tend to exist, whether we’re conscious of them or not. And bringing them into mind, we can begin to shift either from being on the more powerful in that circumstance side or the less powerful circumstance. And when we start to take that into account, we can actually think about meeting designs that help to shift the dynamics, help people shift the dynamics.

So we’ll talk about specific ways that we can shift the dynamics in virtual space. And I often use a framework for meetings that helps me to think about the complexity of a bridge over a gap. And starting with grounding and connecting and setting the space up to exploring the diversity and divergence in the room and feeling the energies begin to spin up, and out of that, if we’re doing our jobs well, something new emerges. Even if it’s just a training, but certainly in conflictual meetings or multi-stakeholder meetings, we want to allow that divergence to happen in a way that allows people to begin to see new possibilities emerge. And then as we start to explore those, we can come to convergence and convergence doesn’t mean shutting down all of the diversity, it means finding a way to hold it and move it forwards, and then a closing.

 So we can explore that further in the workshop, why we’re here, opening the conversation, looking for where the conflict is, looking for where the possibilities are. There’s all sorts of techniques we can use for that.

And then as we begin to emerge, we want to see what’s possible to create a brave space. Some people talk about creating psychological safety in meetings. We’ve talked about that a bit earlier yesterday. A lot of folks I engage with talk about creating a brave space, which is actually creating a space where we can actually venture forth a little bit from our feelings of comfort, into the just enough discomfort or uncomfort, so that ourselves and the community in which we’re engaging with can change. So creating a brave space, I might feel uncomfortable for a bit when I’m in it, but I also know that taking that step is going to help us move forward together. So how do we create a brave space together is part of the design thinking that I use for these kinds of meetings,

Moving into emergence, hopefully out of all that seeming chaos and diversity of thinking and ideas, new ways of integrating the data, new ways of integrating the different experiences that people have had and looking for what we’ve missed. So that can begin to create a vision for the next iteration of what we’re doing. So oftentimes we closed down the exploration space as we want to try to come to some convergence, but oftentimes we miss something that’s really important, whether it’s in our system design or our community agreements that we’re coming to, or policy decisions. So as we’re moving into emergence, we also look for what we might’ve missed as we create the vision for the next iteration.

Convergence, all sorts of different ways to do again, model building summarizing, again, exploring what’s left to do. And what’s left to look at. And then closing all of this to that.

So in the workshop later, we’ll be looking at a few things here. I’ve changed the slide for the workshop, but how do we create equity in online space and encourage full participation? So we want to look at issues of power. We want to understand instead of unequal access, I’ve been thinking a lot about how do we hold the complexity of the system that we’re working in in a way that allows us to move forward? And how not to simplify things so much in our desire to move things forward that we drain out the life and the humanity of the people who are showing up and that in that simplification, we have lost some essential piece of the system we need to look for. So there’s other pieces to that design challenges for creating an equity and online space. Some of these in our more highly technological settings, low bandwidth isn’t as much of an issue. English is often a common language of business in the United States, anyway, but what do we lose when we are only allowing for English as the main language? There’s lots to talk about that, especially in public participation ideas.

So in the workshop, we’ll explore formats to encourage online thinking and participation. We heard some really great ones this morning about bringing the home into the space, working with play. There’s so many different ways to do that. But when we think about the principles around inclusion and equity and looking at power dynamics, it helps us to choose the right tools for the job. I hope you come to the workshop, where we’ll have a chance to play with this ideas a lot more and really explore how do we hold the complexity of diversity of ideas and experiences as we move into both our business experience online and our community experiences online. So thanks. And I hope to see you this afternoon.