Video and transcript from J. Elise Keith’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 J. Elise Keith.

J. Elise Keith, Founder and CEO of Lucid Meetings, spoke about facilitating in the present, near, and future. We can take a project from real-time excitement to near and far-time enthusiasm through creating records and remembrances of the occurrence. In her workshop, J. Elise explained that professional facilitators are pretty skilled at planning and running events. But the challenge is how to make sure that the work in facilitated events and the changes these events inspire have an impact on the everyday lives of those being served. Participants explored what it means to facilitate across different time scales and surface ideas we can all use to make a more lasting impact.

“Traditional skills are being replaced.”

Watch J. Elise Keith’s talk “Facilitating in Real Time, Near Time, and Far Times” :

Read the Transcript

J. Elise Keith:

All right. Hello, everybody. I’m super thrilled to be here. Today, we are going to talk about facilitating in real time, which is what we’re doing right now in near time and far time. And I will tell you, I haven’t talked about this before. I probably have way more content than will fit in our time. So let’s go through it and see what we get. This particular topic is super important to me and to the people I work with because, as Douglas mentioned, my company focuses on helping teams run successful meetings every day. And that’s the key, so we’re talking about every day, we’re talking about the everyday business meeting. So all of those project status meetings and the one-on-ones, and the weekly team meetings and the 90% of meetings that everybody else has to run every day that get work done.

And right now is a really good time to be looking at the everyday business meeting, because in the business world, it’s becoming more and more important to get it right. I think this slide that I’m about to show you from the WEF brings that home in a nice way. So in this last year, the WEF published this list of the Top 25 Skills for 2025. And it might be hard to read for you, but it includes things like the ability to work well with others, the ability to influence, the ability to problem solve, to work through decisions, to do all of these things. So there’s very little on this list that’s about coding or mechanical engineering or all of these other kinds of traditional job skills. And when I saw this list, for me, I saw two things. I saw number one, okay, the world of work is changing, and this list brings that home. Work has become increasingly complex.

The shift to remote work is just one sign of that. So increasing complexity and the trend towards automation, which had begun before, accelerated in 2020 like it had never done. So folks who were thinking about replacing manual labor, simple jobs with robots have absolutely jumped on board. Did you know that there’s even a robot in fields right now that can go through and pick strawberries?That’s amazing stuff. But what it means is that the jobs of now and the jobs of the future are no longer the jobs where people can be told what to do. They’re the jobs of what social psychologists call the meeting class. So that was the first thing that came to mind when I saw this list, okay, the jobs of the future are the jobs of people who meet. Which means, of course, the second thing that comes to mind is, A, they’re talking about facilitators, All of these things are facilitator skills.

And this list isn’t new, so in 2017, 2018, something like that, the Corporate Learning Skills Group published this list of what they consider to be the essential power skills for workforce agility and success in the future. And if you look at this list, how many of those are things that you know 20 techniques to run with a team? This is facilitation. This is the power of the future. So you won’t be too surprised that after I work with a client and we help them on their everyday business meetings tackle some of those basics like, hey, you should know what your meetings are about, and wouldn’t it be cool if there were notes. After we get the basics handled, one of my number one recommendations to them is that they should send their people for facilitation training, they should work with more facilitators, and they should get a facilitator or two on staff, because facilitators design fabulous meetings.

We know how to bring a group together. We know how to merge the opinions, get all of that diversity into the conversation, because it’s fundamentally complex, work through all of that information and then come to a convergent decision so that we can move forward. Fabulous, necessary critical skills for the future of work and for the today of work. So I’m always telling clients, “Facilitation, facilitation, facilitation,” and they are giving me this reaction. Turns out a lot of my corporate clients have got some real beef with facilitators. They have been burned time and time again by a facilitator who’s come in and run a great workshop with them and then I left them with a stinking pile of sticky notes. I had a sales person on my team the other day come back and said, “Yeah, I talked to this executive at this local corporation about doing a project with them and they said, ‘Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. We did that once. We had a person come in and they did a day for us on how to run better meetings and all I got was this lousy poster.'”

So this is not new. Everybody here has experienced some of that. And I know some of the other folks have already talked to this theme a bit. In fact, the facilitator, Cameron Frazier, I think did a really nice job of summing up this phenomenon when he showed me this graphic several years ago. Now he facilitates strategic planning, and he said this experience with companies and their focus on strategy was that they know they need to do it so they hire the facilitator, and there’s no strategy, business as usual, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah. Two days we’re all about the strategy. Nothing. So the word facilitation means to make the process easy, and Cameron and other folks who do great strategic planning workshops like this make the process of getting a strategic plan created in the workshop easy. Fabulous work. That, however, isn’t the actual goal. The actual goal for the company is to have a strategy that they can then execute on to achieve their larger goals.

So this pattern is not actually making the larger process easy. But what are you supposed to do? You’ve been hired for two days. You haven’t been hired to go work there the whole time. Or maybe you’ve been given permission to get the team together for an hour. What are you going to do with that? It’s incredibly challenging to make sure that our work has an impact beyond the workshop, but it can be done. And to do it, it requires thinking about different tools in different ways. Now, this is an especially challenging thing to do because we’ve got a number of cognitive biases that make it difficult for us to accurately project visions of ourself into the future. So if you have a little time, check out things like the End of History Illusion and the Uh-oh Effect. But these things make it so that when we think about ourselves in the future, we think that we’re going to be just like we are, today as if we know everything we know today, as if we have the same motivations and needs and pressures. And that’s just simply not true.

So to help us think about the kinds of tools we might use when we wish to take our facilitation from the real time and project it out into near time and far time, let me tell you a story about my dog. So this is Mabel, and Mabel is a Lagotto Romagnolo, which is this Italian dog, and she was bred explicitly to hunt truffles. And truffles, they’re these kinds of mushrooms things. They live underground, which means she sniffs, sniffs, sniffs, sniffs, sniffs. She’s a sniffing wandermutt. And one day, we were walking to the farmer’s market and back, and it’s a mile and a half, it’s just this really short walk, and my dog is sniff, sniff, sniffing and every time she sniffs, we are like, “Come on. Let’s go.” So she has developed this technique where she wants to sniff something and we’re trying to make her go so she pretends to pee. Because we’re not going to drag her if she’s being right. So she was like, “Okay, I’m going to sniff and I’m going to pee.”

And this particular walk, we were noticing that she was doing this an awful lot and we started to keep track. We’re like, “Okay, well, sniff, pee, sniff, pee, sniff pee, my good golly.” And by the time we got back from the walk, we were like, “Oh my gosh, she went 13 times in a mile and a half. 13 times.” And my daughter looked at us and she said, “Oh my gosh, mom, we should have taken a picture.” Now, if you stop and think about that, what would that picture have looked like on my iPhone roll? Wait a second. Why is there a picture of my dog peeing? So in the moment, in the real time moment of this walk, we had a vivid vision of what this looked like and we were able to keep track. But we decided, that must be a record. We would want some way to count and see if Mabel ever broke that record in the future. So we devised a plan for facilitating that result having this record both in the near time and then later on.

So when we got home, for near time, we didn’t recreate the entire walk for my other family members. We told them, “Hey, we went on this walk and Mabel did this. And we have this new record and this record is 13.” So that way, in near time, the people who weren’t there for the real time event had an awareness of what was going on and they were able to get some immediate information that allowed them on the walk the next day to go ahead and put that information to use. And then finally, knowing that three months, six months later, we weren’t going to remember this, I mean, it was a cute story, but who’s going to remember this? We decided to create an artifact that helped us remember it, and put it in our environment. And my daughter made this poster, which is the Pee Record. So how many times does Mabel pee on a walk? And we have this on our refrigerator. So now, no matter when we are in time, that real time event has some resonance and we can put those effects to use and act on them again in the future.

A gross, simple example, but it gives you the idea. So in the business world, as we switched to the working online and then pandemic, I know many facilitators already began to work with time in a different way. So that fabulous one day or two day workshop became a fabulous workshop series. This event is not full, full, full days. They’re shorter events with lots more breaks broken out over time. So that’s great. That’s step one, being more aware of how to break out the cognitive load over spans of time. But remember, our focus is everyday business meetings and impacting team success over time, and workshops in that world are just one of 16 different types of meetings. So to provide a glimpse of what’s possible, when you look at the entire spectrum of different kinds of meetings that teams run, let me show you how the business coaches handle strategic planning.

So this is what we call a meeting flow model, and this is a meeting flow model for strategic execution. So just like when Cameron went in and he does his two day strategic planning workshop, business coaches will do the same thing. They do the facilitated strategic planning work in a two day offsite workshop. But then they plan for exactly how that strategy shows up in the everyday meetings that team runs. So once per day, the leadership team will have a huddle, and in that huddle, they will talk about anything that’s coming up that’s getting in their way of executing on that strategy. That’s blocking and tackling. What’s going on today? Who needs help? Where are we? Every week, they dedicate 90 minutes to looking at their strategic execution. Now, this is not just a weekly team meeting where people run around and they report status. This is a highly designed meeting where they look explicitly at how they are tracking on their strategic metrics, they talk about what’s in and out, and then they solve problems that have come up between their goals and their ability to actually achieve them.

And they solve those in real time in the meeting. So it’s, problem solving, it’s status, it’s all kinds of things. And then finally, because no plan survives contact with reality, every 90 days they run a half day workshop to refresh the strategy. 30, 60, 90 days, they are keeping that work that they did in that workshop front and center active, alive, and they are acting on it. So those are some of the many ways in which you can take a strategic planning outcome and drive it through the organization in both that real time workshop, in the near time, the next day, the next week, and then looking out 30 days, 60 days, 90 days later to make sure it stays alive. So we call this a meeting flow model, and this is just one of the ways if you plan for and help your clients design, not just your workshop but the meetings that follow it, that you can extend your impact. Now, in our work, we teach clients how to make their own meeting flow models. In this case, it’s literally documentation.

It’s very much like the workshop plan that you may have written for any other time only including many more small meetings that the teams can run themselves. So clear structures that can run themselves. And what do they get when they do this? Well, a team who has something like a meeting flow model, and meeting flow models are one of many ways we can extend that impact, but they’re some of the most obvious, and when teams have meeting flow models, they get better meetings. The meetings they’re running are designed, they’re designed to take this work that you are doing and make sure it shows up in real time with them as they move forward. And that has impacts in terms of their business budget, their money. So you get productivity. But you also get things improved sales reach and impact. So for those of you who work for nonprofits, when you design the way in which your clients then engage their stakeholders, that improves their impact.

You can improve employee engagement and retention. There’s really strong data that if you do a little bit of work to change the conversation perhaps around diversity, perhaps around strengths in the manager meetings, that will have a significant impact on engagement and retention. And all of those metrics change. Now, more importantly, for those of you doing the facilitation work, when you design this kind of work, you have a place to embed the culture change you’re seeing. What question, if you are focusing on innovation, should teams be asking themselves in their weekly team meetings? What question should managers be asking their leadership team on a monthly basis to know that they’re on track? And finally, the biggest benefit you get when you do this kind of work, both for you as facilitators and business leaders of your own, but also for your clients is a significant competitive advantage, because most leaders do not realize that designing the way of working is their job.

So today, if you choose to join me in the workshop, what we’re going to do is we’re going to play with this idea and we are going to literally draft some plans that you can use to extend your impact of your workshops and out from the real time work into near time and then out into far time. We’re going to look at some questions like, what mechanisms can you use? What do you need to know about your clients to make it go? And what can you do that makes the process, the true process, easy for your clients over time? Come play with me. It’ll be totally fun.