Video and transcript from Reagan Pugh’s talk at Austin’s 2nd Annual Facilitator Summit, Control the Room

Please join us for the Control the Room 2021, which will be held Feb. 2-4, 2020. You can find out more and buy tickets here.

This is part of the 2020 Control The Room speaker video series.

In February we hosted the second annual facilitator summit, Control The Room, at Austin’s Capital Factory. We launched the summit last year in partnership with MURAL to create a space for facilitators to gather, break down the silos, and learn from one another.

The three-day summit is a rare opportunity to bring together an otherwise unlikely group of highly experienced and skilled professionals across various industries and crafts—from strategy consultants and negotiators to Scrum Masters and design thinkers.

Anyone interested in deepening their knowledge on how to successfully facilitate meaningful meetings and connect with other practitioners is welcome. Together, we dive into diverse methodologies, expand upon perspectives, and learn new insights and strategies that enrich our expertise.

This year we had the pleasure of welcoming 24 speakers, all innovation professionals, who shared their insights and strategies of successful facilitation.

One of those speakers was Reagan Pugh, Facilitator at Voltage Control.

Reagan lectured on the inner work of a facilitator; the essential job is done before facilitation, and how it affects the dynamic of the group one is leading.

He called into question what facilitators do before walking into the room, and reminded the group that facilitation is not about the facilitator, but about helping the group. “We don’t go into a room armed with our answers, we go in the room and help them recover the answers in the room, not discover the answers for them.”

Reagan shined a light on the importance of centering oneself and bringing positive energy to the room to cultivate the same in the group. “We need to consider where our mind is at, our spirit, and our intentions, so that we don’t bring negative bias into the room.”

Watch Reagan Pugh’s talk “Inner Work of a Facilitator”:

Read the Transcript

Reagan Pugh:

Last night a wintry minx fell upon Austin, Texas. If you’re anything like me, most likely this morning you woke up and you scurried to your window and you pull the blinds down to see if the snow is on the ground. Oh, it’s on top of the cars. And then you do, if you’re from Texas one really important thing after this, you scurry over to your laptop, you open it up and you look to see if school’s closed for the day.

I’m a grown adult, but I was still like, a school day feels really cool, especially when we’re in Texas. Because we liked the imagining school days, because you imagine it’s going to be some kind of a snowpocalypse and you’re going to have to survive it. And all of a sudden, your mom’s like, “Put the bath… Turn on the bathtub, get the water, fill it up. The pipes might freeze, make sure we got the canned food!” You figure out which of your sweaters you’re going to use to put on for warmth and which ones you can like rip up and tie around a broken broom handle and dip in kerosene for a torch.

There’s this emergency mindset that we get into. Sometimes I feel that when I’m just at home, not wanting to go get food somewhere and there’s no food left in my house. And so you go to the pantry and it’s… There’s some tortillas and I got some spaghetti some… have you ever made a spaghetti taco? I just got back yesterday from a trip and all we had was chili, and I made a chili taco. Listen to me, you can make a taco out of anything, you just need a tortilla. There’s this practice of going into the pantry and saying to myself, “Okay, I can’t go out and discover food anywhere else I’m going to have to make do with what I got. I’m going to have to recover what I’ve already got right in here right now.’.

Have you ever been making a PowerPoint presentation, and it’s one hour before your presentation, and you’re on Unsplash looking at stock photography and you’re like, “What the hell is going to say synergy for me.” And then all of the sudden, your past self walks the room, the ghost of your past self, and whispers into your ear, “That consumer beverage company you did a workshop for in 2016, three slides will work here. You’re welcome.” And then you think to yourself, “Oh yes!”

I’ve been here before. I don’t ho… have to go out and discover something else that I have to put in my playbook, I need to recover things that I’ve had. These are the stories that we love, these are the stories that we pay attention to. There’s this one about a Prince, his father gets murdered by his uncle. He’s got to flee. And so he takes up with some vagabonds and they live off the land. His sweetheart comes to find him years later to save the kingdom is in disarray. Only you can come back and save us, but he doubts that he says, “I don’t have what it takes. I think I’m going to have to go discover some new knowledge and skills…” But I’m talking about Simba, right? And this is the Lion King. I’m going to have to go out Nala and fi… And she says, “No, it’s about recovering who you’ve always been.”

Isn’t this what we do for our clients. We don’t go into a room armed with our answers. We go into our room, if we’re really going to serve our clients, believing that the answers to their greatest challenges are already locked in that room. And it is our job to bring them out. It is not our job discover, it is our job to recover. So, this is really great for us to do for our clients. But man, this is really hard to do for ourselves.

This is why the cobbler’s kids have holes in their shoes. This is why management consultants are terrible entrepreneurs. This is why the dermatologist’s kids have back zits. This is why the urologists… I’ll stop there.

What do we do before we go into the room? The success of any intervention depends upon the interior condition of the intervenor. We’ve got the knowledge and skills and spades. We have access to all kinds of things that we can bring with us, but are we willing to do the work prior to make sure that when we come into that room, we’re ready to help those folks recover what it is that they need to

I like to start with gratitude. Some folks, when we begin a session we want to get people talking and if there’s trust in the room it’s great to get folks to have an intimate conversation. But sometimes that doesn’t always work and people are a little rebuffed by that. I often find that talking about things we’re grateful for is a great way to start, because all of the sudden we’re not worried about all that we have to do. Our brains get wipes. There’s a clean slate. As Solomon says, our amygdala relaxes and people become available for something. So let’s just try this real quick. Think about something that’s going well in your life, think about something that’s going right. This is just how I would do it in a session. And just turn, in 30 seconds, and share to your neighbor like, “This is one ray of sunshine in my life right now.” Go.

Thank you. Let me hear two things, you can brag on your partner. What do we hear? What did you hear your partner say that you said, “Oh, that’s good.” Yes.

Speaker 2:

My sweet young son,-

Reagan Pugh:

“My sweet young son,”-

Speaker 2:

When he’s sleeping.

Reagan Pugh:

When he’s asleep! We keep lots of NyQuil around. What else? One more.

Speaker 3:

We’ve got a freelancer here who’s killing it.

Reagan Pugh:

We’ve got a freelancer who’s killing it, went out on her own and is making it rain. Congratulations. Give a round of applause.

But here’s the thing about getting folks to this place. You can feel the temperature in the room change whenever we talk about things that we’re grateful for, but I can’t give a gift like that to a room if I don’t have that gift myself.

I was a magician growing up, and I was good. And I would do birthday parties and I would make balls disappear and handkerchiefs disappear. But every time I would master a new trick, there was this problem. I stopped being impressed with the trick that I was performing. And so I would move from trick to trick no longer enjoying it because the knowledge and the skill didn’t seem complicated to me anymore.

So seeking wisdom, I went to the local magic shop where there was this wise old magician who would proffer advice to young people. And he would sit in the corner, and I walked in and I said, “Master, what am I supposed to do? My magic tricks are no longer impressive to me.”

He said, “Oh, it’s a sad day in a young magician’s life when he’s no longer impressed with his own magic, but,” he stands up and he walks over, puts his hands on the counter. And he says, “Learning how to do the illusion is only step one of being a magician. Knowing how to return to the wonder you felt when you first saw the trick performance, now this is the magic.” And then he snapped his fingers and he turned into a Raven and he flew out the…

If I don’t believe that I have a gift, how am I going to give a gift? We’re freelancing right now. Was there a job that you left to freelance? Was freelancing a thing that you’ve wanted to do?

Speaker 4:

Uh, no.

Reagan Pugh:

Okay, that didn’t work. That didn’t work. What does it look like for us before we begin our work to make sure that we think, “I’m choosing to be here.”

One year, two year, three years or four years ago, I wouldn’t have believed that I had the chance to do this. And if we can remember that we have this privilege of walking into a room to guide folks, perhaps then we can give this gift of gratitude back to them.

My grandmother, she would paint her fingernails methodically. She had the bottles across her bathroom and she would pull one down and the red would coat her fingernail. You could see the bristles, so slowly. I would say to her, “Nana, why is it that you paint your fingernails so slowly?”

And she would blow on them and say, “Honey, it’s because I paint my fingernails like this, that you’re alive.”

I would say, “Nana, what do you mean?”

And she said, “Honey, if I take this good care of my fingernails, don’t you think I made sure your dad didn’t kill himself?”

She had a tidy house, she had painted fingernails, her car was always clean, and her clothes were folded. The way that she did anything was the way that she did everything.

As facilitators, what mindsets do we carry about the people whom we were about to go interact with? When we’re doing discovery interviews, do you ever have someone who works for the organization you’re going to serve, say, “Now watch out for Sarah, watch out for Jonathan. They’re going to be a naysayer.” And then don’t we carry the story into the room with us if we’re not careful. Those thoughts that we carry, the way that we behave, the postures we take, this permeates into the rest of our experience. How do we make sure as we approach any engagement that we consider where our mind is at, where our spirit is at? Where are we worried? Where are we anxious? And where are we frustrated? Because this, my friends, echoes into the rest of our actions.

I had a mentor, and his name was Earl. I was in college and I couldn’t get a girlfriend. So I was involved, Students Association for Campus Activities, Student Government, Student Organ… I was busy, I was building a resume. I was going to go make something of myself. I was applying for all these jobs and I wasn’t getting them. And I was frustrated. So I would walk into Earl’s office and I would sit down and I would complain about my station in life. And Earl was patient, and he would sit in his chair and it would swivel and he would let me finish. And finally the swivel would stop. And he would look at me, and with kindness say the same thing that he said every single time, “Reagan, this is going to make a lot more sense for you when you realize that it’s not about you.” Earl died a few years later. And 1000 people went to his funeral. Earl possessed knowledge and skills, but it was not Earl’s knowledge and skills that allowed him to have a lasting impact on me and those who he served.

It is easy for us before we take on an engagement, to walk into the room believing that we are being held up and judged the entire time. It’s easy for us to believe that our career is dependent upon doing perfect in this interaction, or that us achieving the result that we told them that we would achieve is going to determine whether or not we are going to ever be successful in this field.

But let me tell you something, it’s not about you. And here’s the paradoxical beauty of realizing that it’s not about us. The second we can believe and remember that it’s not about us walking into the room to do this work, the stakes that we once believed to be so high, they can vanish. And the second we don’t believe the stakes exist anymore about whether or not we have value. The second that we are able to recover those pieces of ourselves that can really connect and be with the people in the room.

People, I don’t know if you know this, we don’t like to have things done to us, but we do enjoy it whenever folks decide to show up to a room and be with us the way that we need to be been with. This all happens before we walk into the room. This all happens before we speak to one person, my friends, this is the inner work of the facilitator. Thank you.