Video and transcript from Elena Astilleros ‘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 Elena Astilleros.

Elena Astilleros of Empoderment, discussed turning your meeting from “Sh** to hit.” Facilitators are the ones who bring the magic to the room, she said. Our users can’t go further than where we are at ourselves. Elena taught participants how they might be creating the wrong kind of drama (without realizing it) when facilitating. Elena’s workshop taught participants how to lead lively meetings where they (and everyone participating) feel alive and reinvigorated from their time together. She provided attendees with practices they can start using to trigger group genius in their next meeting or workshop and a simple way to up-level the questions they ask their team.

“Do you feel totally drained after facilitating your sessions? When you ask questions, do you get crickets…or worse, only the same handful of people answering every time?” 

Watch Elena Astilleros’s talk “$h*t to Hit!! Creating Meetings Participants Love” :

Read the Transcript

Elena Astilleros:

Hello hello, everybody. Thank you for joining and welcome to Shit to Hit. Creating meetings participant love. So let’s take this time, these next 18 minutes and learn how to turn around dead meetings into something your participants can come into and feel revived, to be rejuvenated and get the results they want. Sound good?

Okay. Before I move on though, I want to share with you the story behind this erasy title, because I don’t sit around thinking titles like these, but I had been working with a client and they had a 50 person status meeting that had not been facilitated. So if you put yourselves in the shoes of those participants, you might have an idea of what they were facing. It was not good. It was not pretty. And after working with me for a while, my client came in and she’s like, “Oh, Lena. Our meeting really turned around. You turned our meeting around from shit to hit. I loved our meeting today and I want it to continue that way.”

And in honor of that client and in honor of all the people in the world, sitting through dead meetings, I titled this Shit to Hit. So let’s go on a journey and let’s talk about the three steps to make us hit meeting. And now, before I start, I want you to know that these three steps that I’m going to present can actually be presentations in and of themselves. They involve learning a set of tools, but for our purposes here, I’m going to talk about all three together at a shallower level, just to give you enough information and I’ll share some of the materials that I referenced and I used so that you can go in and learn it yourself as well. So those three steps are know yourself, know your team and know your outcome.

Now first know yourself. When I was coming together with how do I make this presentation pop? How do I make this work? I have a whole set of facilitation skills and tools that I use. And I bring out and I’ve been studying flow for several years now. So how do I bring this to you so that you can get the most out of your time? And it was important to me to do something for you because do something that would easily make you have a killer session with the tools at present. Because when I see someone like John Cutler, or Lisa Atkins, and I’m hearing them speak and I learned something and I can immediately apply it and share, sometimes I’m in a virtual meeting with them and I’m like, our company’s the product. It’s not the team. It’s not the product. It’s the company.

I feel really alive and excited. And I really wanted to provide that with you, but everything I was trying, all of the steps just seemed so inauthentic. They weren’t working. And I was telling my best friend and how do… what’s going on here? What can I do to make it work? And she told me, she’s like Alaina, it’s you, you could give any set of tools. And it would only be half effective because it’s you who brings the magic. It’s you who knows what to do with them. And I realized, well, it’s not just me. It’s any skilled facilitator, just like you, who are sitting here to learn, you bring the magic. So how do you take a set of tools and bring them to life so that your meeting can come to life and get the results that everybody wants?

Well, you’ve got to know yourself and when you know yourself, there’s something cool that happens. You see that the team won’t go any further than you can. So if I’ve never felt quaking boots and worried that I’m going to say something and worried if I should say or not say it or what, but it’s so strong that I say it anyways and it totally shifts the room. That’s courage. If I’ve never felt that before, I can’t take you on a journey to such courage, to that level of fear and overcoming that fear. So you must be a student of yourself because they cannot go any further than you. The reason we can see a Brene Brown presentation and feel moved to our core is because that presenter has worked with vulnerability so long, and she’s gone to uncharted waters so long that we can feel it and we could build there too, she opens it up.

And just like her as a performer, I live and hunt near Hollywood. So Hollywood performers know that your job as a performer, and that’s what we are as facilitators, when we’re taking individuals through a journey and taking them to a new places, we are performing because we are here to change the molecules in the room. You want to go from Shit to Hit. You’ve got to change dead molecules and make them come alive. And you can only do that if you know yourself and you’ve taken yourself there first.

So some ways to make yourself know yourself is to go back and do that humble inquiry of what makes you feel alive. What makes your eyes dance? What did it feel like seeing fireworks for the first time in your life? What brings that spark or what was it that gave you the courage to do those crazy things that you’ve done in the past, or to be vulnerable or to listen? Know yourself so that way you can bring it forward because there’s one thing that old clockmakers knew, and this is going to sound random, but I’m going to bring it back together. Don’t worry. Old clock makers knew this one thing. And it was that if you put a bunch of clocks in the room against a wall, what would immediately happen is that the clocks would start synchronizing to one another. Cluck, cluck, cluck, cluck, cluck, cluck.

And if you put something really big, like a grandfather clock in the middle of the room of that wall, everything sinks to the big pendulum. There’s a word for that. It’s called coherence. And I learned about coherence from Dr. Alan Watkins, who took the UK rowing team from unremarkable to Olympic medalists. And he says that coherence is that state where elements are in harmony with one another. And it’s important for us to know this because human beings have a pendulum and it’s our heart. And I know it sounds so woman fuzzy to say it, but actually the pure chemical of our heart, our hearts rowing off electromagnetic energy every second. And it comes alive through our voice. It comes alive through our body stance. It comes to life through what we’re seeing. And if you can control that pendulum and know that you are the big pendulum in the room for everyone to sync up with, then you can use that power to take folks on a journey.

And you need to know this because sometimes when you’re facilitating, you need to adjust your style. I’ll tell you a story. When we came back from winter break, I had spent the whole winter break indulging in holiday cookies. I was really happy. I was indoors, I could bake. There was just too many cookies. I enjoyed them. And I come into a meeting and I’m facing two VPs. One who was almost finished with the whole 30, which is a completely clean meal plan and another who has spent the whole break doing meditation and yoga and spas. So we’re in that meeting and it’s slipping from me. There’s nothing I can do to facilitate and what’s happening. It’s because my heart was so full of sugar and carbs. I couldn’t be the strongest heart in the room. So I had to adjust my style. I actually had to stand up.

So that way I could take control of the room because otherwise I would’ve been like, Oh, please try and to get in there. And we all know how that feels. It’s miserable to try to get into a room where you’re not the biggest pendulum in the room. So you do this because you’re actually going to take your team on a journey. And really when folks are coming into a meeting, they want to come out with an outcome that they couldn’t have done by themselves, that they couldn’t have gotten to otherwise without being in that session. And what you want to trigger through yourself is something called the flow state. And I’m going to say slow is that one state where you’re in the pocket, you’re in the zone and ideas come rushing to you. The best creative answers just emerged from your body. You just make connections that you couldn’t have made.

And that cycle is actually well-documented, well-researched for the last 50 years. And it has four stages. It doesn’t just magically happen although it feels like it. There’s actually things that are happening in our bodies. And the first stage is struggle. To get us to that flow state, we have to struggle. We have to have something that’s a little bit challenging. Not so challenging that it’s going to cause us anxiety, but it has to be challenging so that we can build up our cortisol and norepinephrine so we can have a charge against it because it’s a challenge. So it could bring us up. And at some point, the science shows that at some point you’re working on this challenge of struggling. It’s like, “I’m never going to get it.” And then you have this aha moment. You make a realization and that realization moves you into the second phase of the flow cycle.

And that is your release phase. That’s when nitric oxide, not nitrous oxide, that’s a whole different experience. But that’s when nitrous oxide floods your system and allows that cortisol to fade away and gets you set up to go into the next stage, which is the juice stage. And that’s called flow. And that flow stage is where you’re getting this cocktail really good, feel good chemicals like dopamine and endorphins. And this one chemical called anandamide. And that’s called your bliss chemical. That’s why when you’re in the zone, it feels so good because your body’s actually producing bliss. It’s producing the chemicals and this stage, your brainwaves, the brainwaves that are flowing are Beta and Gamma brainwaves. And they are so expensive. You are doing such high computation at this stage that it turns off parts of your brain so that you can do this computation.

And the parts of the brain that it sends off is your frontal lobe and not all the frontal lobe, but it takes away your sense of self, your sense of time so that way you could do these computations. And that’s why this magic happens in that phase. But what’s happening is that it’s actually very expensive for your body to be in flow. That’s why we can’t always be in it. That’s why it turns off those parts of your brain. And we need to recover. We need to down-regulate and recover after flow. And that’s going to allow our brain, our nervous system to reset our brain, to just calm down and get ready for another flow cycle. But if you’re in this room, my guess is you’re not very good at self care and recovery, because there’s so much like drive, drive, drive, drive, drive, drive, drive.

That’s why you’re here, right? You want to get better. And that’s my guess. I may be wrong, but I’m guessing you want to get better. And we don’t give ourselves a chance to recover, but that’s so important for us to get back in flow and for us to expend more time in the flow. I’m here, I’m going to tell you something and it’s going to be really sad. It was really sad for me, but I’m going to tell you something that will make it easier for you to get in flow. And if you’re in flow, you can lead your teams in flow. And that’s this, TV is not recovery. Television viewing is actually high Gamma, which means your body is in flow when you’re watching television. It feels so good to watch a good show, but your body is expending a lot of energy.

That’s why when you Netflix binge a whole season of Cobra Kai, you feel so exhausted afterwards. It’s because even if your body’s not working, your brain is working. So what are some ways of recovery? Well, ways of recovery, you can look at massage, you can take an Epsom salt bath, meditation, uplifting conversation, and queen bee of them all is a walk in nature. That will help down-regulate your system and get back to normal and recover from the hangover flow. So now we covered that, know yourself. We’re going to move a little bit faster because we’re going to talk about knowing your team. That’s the second step. Now in my book, invisible leader, I write about how to interview your team before big session. So that way you know what’s alive on the team. You have to get a pulse. I’m not going to repeat any of those here.

You could go get my book. It’s under 20 bucks. It’ll give you some sample questions. But what I am going to do is I’m going to share with you some of the quotes that I’ve seen, and I want you to listen to this because these are not atypical. The first one is, “I feel we are holding off the Fort until the Calvary arrives. Now the cavalry is forming and coming to our aid, I would like the confidence that the Calvary turns up with our guns and their horses working, and they don’t show up late.” Or how about, “I’m struggling with believing. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.” And then this one, “The team is really working, but stakeholders don’t see it that way, putting in your all, and it’s not good enough? The team is discouraged.” Now, the reason I’m sharing this with you is that these are just a sampling of what I get in my interviews.

And it goes in line with the fact that 85% of the workforce is disengaged worldwide. And it’s only going up that disengagement with COVID. I don’t know what the latest numbers are. Knowing what your team’s at gives you the starting line. And it also humbles you because if you think that your team feeling discouraged, you can go in and flip a meeting like that, that’s actually disrespectful, and you want to meet them where they’re at. You have to know where they’re at. Because the next step is know your outcome. Knowing your outcome allows you to have you finish line. And Steven Kotler, who a lot of this flow research is his. He says, “Our brain is really resourceful. If we know the starting line and we know the end, the brain will fill in the rest.”

Well, one thing that’s important is that flow follows focus. And as a facilitator, you’re helping the team stay focused. You don’t know that. They’re going to go on rabbit holes. They’re going to want to do something else, but you keep them in focus. You allow them to struggle in that focus and something that’s challenging, and you bring them back so that they, as a group, will go through that flow the cycle.

Because once you hit your outcome, you want to celebrate that win. There is so much good in celebration. And I don’t think I need to stress that part, but when you celebrate your win, you’re actually, again, releasing dopamine. You’re creating the chemicals that people go pay money on illegal drugs for. So let them celebrate the win with you. And not only that, there’s this halo effect. When you teach teams to celebrate is that they see you and you become the celebration person in it. It’s slightly manipulative, but that’s what life is. We’re all manipulators for whatever reason. But then they see you when they go back into that state. And it’s a good thing. It’s good for them to go into the state of celebration to know, I’ve had teams where I had to pull out things that they accomplished because three months ago, they were facing problems that they had spent years with.

And after three months, they resolved the problem, but it was like no big deal because all of a sudden they’re in a new place and they have new challenges. So I have to show them, this is where you went and in showing them, they can actually have that celebration and remember what they’ve done. It allows them to recover from all that hard work. So now I said, I wanted a full proof set of steps. I don’t quite have that, but what I am going to give you at the end of this deck is the set of flow triggers. These were created by me, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Steve Kotler and Sawyer help you get better meetings. Thank you.