Video and transcript from Van Lai-DuMone’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 Van Lai-DuMone.

Van Lai-DuMone, the founder of Worksmart Advantage, discussed incorporating creativity into virtual facilitations. Creativity allows facilitators to make people feel heard, that their ideas matter, to express themselves, and to feel connected. Van’s workshop was focused on how incorporating creative tools can not only serve to harness the attention of the group but also serve as a practical tool for: Team Building and Development, Collaboration, Idea Generation, Problem Solving and Trust Building. 

“Creativity allows you to make people feel heard.”

Watch Van Lai-DuMone’s talk “Incorporate Creativity Into Your Virtual Facilitations” :

Read the Transcript


Hello, everyone. Nice to be here today. I’m so excited to be here today, to talk to you about this concept of incorporating creativity into your virtual facilitations. So my work is steeped in creativity and still, this is something that I had to really actively learn to start doing, in March. So I’m going to do today, is share with you some of the tools that I use, to bring creativity into virtual facilitations, and then also share with you why I think it is important to use creativity in our facilitation skills. So my name is Van, as Douglas said, and my work is in team development and leadership training, all through creative integration. And what I mean by creative integration is basically, I use creativity, play and experiential learning, in everything that I do. So let’s start with this idea of what is creativity and why do we bring it into virtual facilitation?

So when I describe creativity, I talk about it as a capacity, not a skill. So for example, oil painting is a skill, opera sing is a skill, but the creativity behind those skills is a capacity and is a capacity that we all have. We’re all creative. So if there is something that we should be universally training on, it’s creativity. You can train me on accounting until we both turn blue, and I’m never really going to quite get it. You might try to train someone else on sales and they might not quite get it, but when you bring creativity into any type of learning environment, what you’re doing is tapping into a capacity that we all have. Creativity also challenges our way of thinking. It allows us to hear from different perspectives and see things from different perspectives. And I’m talking about our own perspectives, right?

Sometimes we can be singular minded, but by being creative, we can see things from different perspectives. And there’s also something about creativity that allows us to see and hear perspectives from other people in the room as well. And then finally, what is creativity? Creativity is something that gives us access to ideas that are untapped by left brain, analytical thinking alone. And oftentimes particularly in the workplace, that’s where we at. We’re in that left brain, analytical thinking. So drawing in creativity is like bringing in that hippie sister. Who’s getting great, bring all these creative ideas, these wild and crazy ideas, and that’s what we want. And then why use creativity in virtual facilitations? Number one, it keeps your audience active and engaged in their learning. It’s hard to be disengage when you’re asked to maybe sketch your neighbor, or if you’re asked to do the floss, it also leaves people energized rather than drained.

So it can be easy to leave people drained, especially now that we’re in front of a computer screen. So as facilitators, we can’t just take what we used to do in person and bring it virtually. It doesn’t really work. We have to be very intentional about how we’re talking to our audience and engaging them to leave them energized. And then there’s something very natural about creativity that creates this opportunity for connection and collaboration, because creativity is so much about idea sharing. It really offers this opportunity to collaborate naturally. And then also it offers this experience of emotional connection, and that is something that I find very beneficial to bringing creativity into this virtual environment. So there is a quote that I like to use in my facilitations, and this is it. People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. And that’s Maya Angelou.

So I love this quote because it really shows you how creativity allows you to make people feel heard. Creativity allows you to make people feel like their ideas matter. To feel that they can express themselves and to feel connected. So now let’s talk a little bit about the how. So, how do you bring creativity into the workplace or into facilitation? So I am aware that although we’re all innately creative, some people may not be that comfortable with their creativity. So I scaffold the delivery of my creativity into my facilitations, starting with something that helps to connect people, and there’s a low barrier of resistance. Then I slowly challenged them into their creativity, giving them a little bit more challenging activities, that’s going to walk them through their creativity, which is what we’re going to do later today in the workshop title. Hang on a second, I’ll get my thing back here. In a workshop that’s really going to show you how to incorporate your creativity and creative tools into your facilitation.

And we’re going to model it through a workshop called, Discover your unique characteristics, that make us stronger together by the sum of our differences, because of the sum of those differences that creates possibilities for ourselves and for others. So I taught just a minute ago, about this whole idea of scaffolding integration into your virtual facilitations, and starting with something that connects people and has a low barrier of resistance. So one tool I use for that is storytelling. And I’m going to demonstrate that for you right now, and to do that, I am going to go way back in time. All the way back to 1975, to Hope Village Refugee Integration Center, where my family and I found ourselves after fleeing the end of the Vietnam war, and it’s here that hundreds of volunteers showed up and donated their time, their skills and their natural characteristics and strengths to help us transition into our new country.

And there was one volunteer who took particular interest in helping the women at the camp, and that volunteer was Hollywood movie star actress, Tippi, Hedren. So back then, she was most famously known for her starring role in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, The Birds. Now she’s probably more famous as Melanie Griffith’s mom and Dakota Johnson’s grandmother, but back then she was a huge Hollywood movie star who brought her kindness, her attentiveness, and her influence, to Hope Village, to help this group of refugees. So TippI, what she decided to do is start a program that help these women learn to type and sow, so they could take those skills and start a career for themselves in this new country. But there was something else that sparked the curiosity of my mom and 19 other women at the camp. And you can see it slightly here in the picture that was Tippi’s long, red, manicured, nails.

So Tippi could easily overlook that curiosity, but she didn’t. What she did was, she was attentive, and what she did next was, she asked herself, well, what if, what if we can get these women trained and licensed as manicurist? So the first thing she did was, she went back to Los Angeles and invited her personal manicurist, Dusty Coots Butera, to come up and help these women learn how to do a basic manicure. So weekend after weekend, Dusty showed up and she brought with her, her patience and her natural ability to teach and to connect, and she taught them how to do a basic manicure. And what that did, is it made my mom and her friends, even more curious and more determined to make this their career, and Tippi was determined to help them.

So despite the fact that none of these women spoke English, and certainly none of them had any money to pay for tuition to go to school, Tippi got creative, and she went down to the local beauty school and she asked them, would you be willing to take on these 20 Vietnamese refugee women as students? And the owners of Citrus Heights Beauty College, with their compassion and their willingness to help, they said, yes.

So because of this, these 20 women, all of them passed their manicure practicum and written tests, in English in under 10 weeks. And the story doesn’t end there. There was the refugees who came after us, that learned about the profession from my mom and her friends, and then their friends from them. Some of you may know that the Vietnamese manicure industry or the manicure industry in the United States is now an $8.3 billion industry, dominated by Vietnamese Americans, who make up 53% of the profession across the country and 80% here in California. So the lesson I get from this is that it is in fact, the sum of our differences and our connection that makes us stronger together, and makes it possible for us to achieve what might seem impossible on our own. Tippi brought her kindness, her attentiveness, her influence, and her creativity. Dusty brought her patience, her natural ability to teach and to connect. The women brought their resilience, their determination, and their curiosity. And then the owners of the beauty college brought their compassion and their willingness to help.

So I share this story and this presentation for a couple of reasons. I just gave you an example of how to scaffold creativity into your virtual facilitations through storytelling. Now, clearly your story doesn’t have to be as dramatic as fleeing a war torn country, or trailblazing an entire industry, but what it does have to do is level the playing field, connect people and elicit an emotion to draw people in the room with you. And you also got to show a little bit of vulnerability, because by doing so, you allow others to do the same. And if you’re going to ask people to tap into their creativity and get a little vulnerable, it’s important that we model that first. And again, with this particular story, what I want to show you… And I hope I showed and inspired all of us to do, is draw on our natural character strings and follow our curiosities over the next three days to find ways to connect, collaborate, and create possibilities for ourselves and for others.

So why did I showed this tool of storytelling this morning as a starting point? Right? So I talked about the whole idea of scaffolding your creativity into your facilitations. So the next step after storytelling and connecting, is what I like to call transfer exercises, where you’re asking people to participate by building on or drawing with some defined shapes. So for example, I can’t see any of you, but I’m going to ask all of you to just look around you right now and pick up five things you might see next to you, just five small objects.

And I’m going to ask you to just take 30 seconds to use those objects, to build a tower. So I’ll give you about 30 seconds here, loosely 30 seconds to build a tower. Okay? So some of you may have your towers up by now, and then what you might want to do is ask them some questions, such as, how many have you built for height? How many people built for aesthetics? How many people built for a strong foundation? And now what you’ve done, is you’ve given them something to do physically, right? Now you’re doing manual tactile building, and you’ve asked them some questions that helps them learn a little bit about themselves. And what you can use that exercise now for, is to break them… You can take them into breakout rooms and use it as a way to do an icebreaker or introduce themselves.

So, that was the next step in the scaffolding. Is this idea of transfer exercises. The next step is the use of visual cues. And since you have your tower already, I’m just going to use that as an example. So as an example, you might now say, what visual cues do you see from that tower? What characteristics of that tower might make you reflect on a way to overcome a challenge that you might be talking about? So you’re looking at characteristics now and trying to force a connection between what they built or what they’re looking at, and some ideas to solve a problem. So, that’s another way you can bring in this idea of creativity to your virtual facilitations. And then the last step would really be to have people use their imagination. Now that they’re comfortable and kind of getting into this concept of using their imagination, using their creativity, you can stretch them a little bit more.

So I like to ask people to either sketch something or tell a story. So I’m going to ask you to do right now, is to sketch, sketch one thing that you can bring to the conference today to make it valuable to others. So again, sketch one thing today, that… Sketch one thing right now, actually, that you can bring to the conference to make this conference valuable to others. And it might be your humor. It might be your energy. So whatever that looks like to you in a sketch, go ahead and draw that sketch right now. And what I have to say, is that this is not an art project.

Your sketching and drawing skills do not matter. It’s just this idea of using your creativity. And after you sketch that one, I’m going to ask you to do another sketch. I’m going to ask you to sketch something that you want to get from this conference and this summit. So what’s going to bring value to you? So that might be… You might be looking for more collaborations. You might be looking for more tools to bring back to the work you do. So take a minute to do that.

And hopefully you guys show up to my workout later today. We can share those. All right. So I’m going to close with this idea, that when we meet later on, we’re going to use some of these creative tools and the scaffolding idea to bring creative tools into your virtual facilitations. I’m going to teach you some of the tools that I use in that scaffolding method, but we’re going to do it through the lens of uncovering your natural character strengths, that can be used to create possibilities for yourself and for others, just like my mom, Tippi Hedren, Dusty, and the owners of that beauty school did, all the way back in 1975, to create possibilities over the next three days for ourselves and for others, and some possibilities that are foreseeable and some possibilities that we can’t even foresee what those might be. So thank you so much for your time today. I look forward to enjoying and being part of the rest of the conference. You can connect with me on LinkedIn if you’d like to, or we’ll connect over on Zoom as well. Thank you for your time.