Video and transcript from Jennifer Marin Jericho’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 Jennifer Marin Jericho.

Jennifer Marin Jericho, Co-Founder and Design and Communication Strategist of Jericho Vinegar Works, presented tactics for Effective Facilitation and Facilitation Pitfalls on some of the tips she has learned along the way for when things don’t go the way you expect. We often think of facilitation as the moment when we are in the room, Jennifer said, running a workshop or meeting, but there’s quite a lot of work to be done before and after to host a successful workshop.

“The devil is in the details.”

Watch Jennifer Marin Jericho’s talk “How to Pivot When Things Go Wrong” :

Read the Transcript

Jennifer Marin Jericho:

Hello everyone, and good morning. Thank you all for being here today. I’m very excited to kick off day two of the conference. And I wanted to express my gratitude to the Voltage Control team, who’s done a fantastic job putting this event together and making a three day virtual conference look super easy. I’ve been facilitating for about 10 years, primarily in nonprofit, education, and most recently in the tech industry, in topics ranging from women’s leadership, diversity and inclusion, to digital transformation. My most memorable workshop was working with the Miami Dade’s Department of Health and the Wolfsonian Museum on an AIDS prevention and awareness campaign.

Before we get started, I wanted to take a quick moment to do a small activity with you. Now while I can’t see you, I’ll just have to trust that you’re following along. So if you could sit back, or stand comfortably, keep your eyes open or closed, and close both of your hands into a tight fist. Feel how that feels. Open one hand and feel the difference between opened and closed fist. I learned this particular visualization in a moment in my life when I needed to center myself and let go of rigid thinking structures. When we are closed, we are reluctant to new possibilities, and so as we move through the day learning from all the great speakers and attendees in the workshops, take the time to reset and be open to be uncomfortable.

This workshop is an iteration of a presentation I did for design leaders around design thinking facilitation last summer. As I prepared the talk, I surveyed my community of facilitators in order to understand and get a broader perspective beyond my own. I also surveyed the participants to ask them what they wanted to learn about facilitation so I could provide as much value as possible. One of the questions that came up several times around that event was around pivoting when things go wrong. So when I decided to speak at the summit, I chose to focus more closely on that question. How do we as facilitators ensure we have the right things in place to embrace the unexpected? And what are the traits you need to be able to pivot well?

We as facilitators know there’s so many pieces that we have to juggle while having very little idea or control of the outcome. It’s a practice in embracing the ambiguity. I use this picture in this slide because Joe and I were facilitating last January, and we spent about a month practicing and putting everything together and planning. And about a week before the event, we decided to do a walk through of the venue. We’d left the venue up to the stakeholder. It was a very important day. She was pivoting in her business and bringing in some of her top clients, as well as her employees. And so she really wanted to make sure everything went well, and we didn’t get an opportunity to visit the venue ahead of time.

And as soon as I walk in, I’m like, “Oh, my gosh.” This place is packed, every corner, wall, space, with plants. And Joe and I looked at each other. We’re like, “Oh, my goodness. Why didn’t we look at this space ahead of time?” We just didn’t have that time. And so at that moment in time, Joe and I could have been closed. And instead, we decided to embrace the space, we modified the agenda, we split our groups in half because it was very hard to walk around the rooms.

And we had two really surprising outcomes. The first one was we had an amazing photo shoot documenting, that wasn’t just a boring board room, as most of my facilitations had been, if they were in person. But it was also really interesting to see how the environment and the people changed because they were in this vibrant space filled with all these plants and greenery and beautiful light, and how they came with just a different perspective, walking into this room. It was just not ordinary for them, and so it was really wonderful in that way.

So for me, this is always a reminder of how we need to sort of embrace that ambiguity and be able to understand how to pivot. As facilitators, we often ask our participants to release judgment, be present, and trust the process. So as I reflected on this question and looked behind it to understand what was really being asked, I chose to modify the title of this presentation to present and talk more about preparing for the unexpected. Taking our mindset outside of right and wrong, which are polarizing and judgment statements, and instead finding ways to create distance from ourselves and our work, so we can observe and react when appropriate.

So looking at pivoting and really understanding, I realized that a lot of times, people focus when they think about how am I supposed to pivot, on the actual act and motion of pivoting, and where and how we move. But in reality, it’s about: What is that central force? What is that mechanism that really keeps us grounded? And how can we really maintain balance? Because the reality is that to really successfully pivot and to be able to anticipate and embrace and react to what’s happening, we still need to be very well grounded and centered. And so I thought through: What are some of those components that really make us centered as facilitators?

And so I’ve narrowed them down to five. The first is preparation, and so when we talk about preparation, yes, of course, we think about that planning. We think about those moments in which we have to make an agenda and time box everything. And do we have the right supplies? And do we know all the people in the room? But it’s also about preparing our participants. And Mo brought this up yesterday when he was talking. Right? So about that pre connection, and how do we bring people along and make sure that we’re standing and starting at the same place, even if we’re going to eventually diverge and converge into all these different spaces? Have you spent the time really bringing your participants along and having them transition to that space where you are?

Next is collaboration. So for me, I really think about this not just in having a cohort of facilitators. We’re so lucky with spaces like Voltage Control, where we have a Slack channel, and there’s quite a lot of facilitators in there. But how are you tapping into the people that are there and present in the room? Is it in the actual facilitation process that you’re sort of grabbing people to help collaborate with you? Are there people in house maybe who are not master facilitators, who you can bring along in the process that you can bounce ideas, that you can help identify gaps?

When I spoke to Leslie before the conference started, and she spoke yesterday morning, she talked about how she tested out her presentation with coworkers and actually ran through a mock workshop with other friends and people that maybe were less familiar with the process. So these are the ways in which we can use our support system in different ways. And our support system can really change depending on where we are and what type of space we’re facilitating in.

Of course then, there’s the learning, and understanding that this process and none of these steps are really linear. Right? So we move in and out of these steps continuously. And so these are the five categories of developmental experiences. And actually, this is taken and modified from a wonderful resource. It’s The 88 Assignments for Development In Place to Become a Well Balanced Leader. I highly recommend it, especially if you mentor or work with other people that you want to sort of find different ways for them to develop in place.

One of the first things it says is that challenging jobs or facilitations are a way in which we grow and develop, which is really funny because we’re talking about how we can anticipate and pivot, and maybe even avoid disaster in places. But it turns out that it’s in the most challenging moments of our facilitations that we might learn and develop the most.

Number two is people, so working with either exceptional people or difficult people. And so when I mentioned earlier about creating distance between ourselves is: What happens when we start to see personalities and the people that we work with as ways for us to grow? So that mindset changes, and so it’s not just about, hey, oh my gosh, I have a different person in my workshop. I don’t know what to do, and I might be frustrated, going through all those feelings that we go through when we’re dealing with these difficult situations, not just in a workshop, but outside in life as well. But really seeing this as a way in which we develop as a person.

Hardships, of course, we’ve learned through this in the last 2020 pandemic, how our communities are going through hardship, and the people that we know and care about the most. Hardship is very much a moment of growth. Of course, it takes a lot of self awareness and reflection and time to really understand and see how we grow. Really, usually, it’s hard to do when you’re really inside of that hardship.

Coursework, I want to caveat this with, at some point and time, the coursework doesn’t necessarily mean going back to school or getting another degree. For me, summits like this, places where we meet and learn and share tactics are ways in which we continue to grow and develop as facilitators and feel well grounded, making sure that we’re always bouncing off of other people and learning from each other.

And finally, experiences off the job. And so I see this very much in terms of facilitation as: At what point and time can I show up and co-facilitate and support other facilitators, where I’m not taking the lead, but I take sort of that back seat or copilot seat? And so I recommend, reach out to people that you really want to learn from their facilitation process and offer. Hey, I’m willing to volunteer. I’m willing to co facilitate with you. I have learned so very much from other facilitators when I’ve spent the time watching their process. And it’s very different because it’s sort of this active participation versus the passive one that you usually take when you’re actually just participating in a workshop, instead thinking through. Okay, well, how can I … By being part of a co facilitator, I’m a part of the planning and the followup, and I can really see sort of all the different elements in the workshop.

Next one for me is trust. And this is not just trusting in yourself and the fact that you’re here, that you’re absorbing all this information, and that you’re learning new tactics every day, but also trusting in the people that support you and trusting in your participants. When I first started teaching over a decade ago, I remember I used to focus on the students that didn’t show up for class. And really, I realized that when you focus on that good energy, when you focus on the people that are there and present, it really just goes such a long way, and your participants are there and willing.

And even though some maybe seem like they’re not on board, or are resistant to that change, eventually they come along. And while you might not see that transformation in them when you’re first in the workshop, remembering that experiences sometimes take longer to process. And maybe someone who didn’t show as much enthusiasm during a workshop may likely be walking away with a lot more than you know.

Finally, it’s know your why. And so just like we’re encouraged to practice gratitude, I always talk about, especially when I’m working with my mentees, about really understanding your why. Why are you here today? Why do you continue to facilitate? So I had and collected some of the reasons why the people that I’ve surveyed and talked to along the way, about why they facilitate. So I can’t see the chat, but I welcome you to go ahead and drop into the chat and let us know. What is your why? Why do you show up every day to facilitate and continue to do the work that you do?

So here we are, you have your five steps. You have your foundation. You find your ways to be centered as a facilitator. We move in and out of these throughout our entire life, in the process and professional development. I moved through them myself planning this workshop for this afternoon. And then it comes to designing that experience and really understanding all the different steps along the way, and from different perspectives, from the different people that are coming to your workshop, again, be it virtual or in person. There’s quite a lot of different elements that need to be considered.

And really, when you start to categorize those elements, you realize that it’s really not as nebulous as you think, those places where you can anticipate and create new scenarios. So these five ways in which we can establish a solid foundation as facilitators, not a linear process. I always mention how one of my trainers once told me, “It’s never supposed to get easy. It just becomes more second nature.” So really thinking through and being self aware, that if we are open and flexible, we’ll continue to grow and hone our craft as facilitators. And so designing an experience is anticipating every moment from various angles.

And this afternoon, we’re going to co-create scenarios to mitigate risk by identifying traps and sharing ideas for addressing these before, during, and after a facilitation because the more that we do this, the more resilient we’re going to be, and the more natural our process is. So I thank you so very much for today. I’m ending a little early. This happens when I’m all excited. I start to talk fast. But this will give you a little time to transition from your next. And I look forward to listening to the rest of the speakers today. (silence).