Video and transcript from Emily Bowen ‘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 Emily Bowen.

Emily Bowen, Holistic Leadership Consultant and Educator at The Peace Nerd, discussed how to facilitate using peace, love, and understanding. By remaining present and in the moment, facilitators can engage best with their users. Emily showed workshop attendees how to create lightness and ease when facilitators want to connect people to each other and build trust when working remotely.

Watch Emily Bowen’s talk “Peace, Love & Understanding” :

Read the Transcript

Emily Bowen:

Thanks so much, Kira. I’m so happy to be here. So, as Kira said, I’m Emily Bowen or Em Bowen. I’m The Piece Nerd. I use they, them pronouns. Some of you may have people in your lives that are non-binary and use these pronouns. For some of you, I might be your first non-binary friend. And I want you to know that it’s not about stumping you to get it wrong or tricking you into having some challenge around saying they in a sentence when you mean one person. And I’ll say that one of the reasons that I own my non-binaryness and my pronouns is because there are a lot of people at the intersections and margins with these pronouns. And so, if you can lean into getting used to using them with me, it will really help you be inclusive towards people who are often excluded from communities. So, that’s who I am.

I look forward in the afternoon to getting to know who some of you are, what brought you here, what you’re excited about. But for right now, I just want to walk you through my design of peace, love, and understanding, or what’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding, to quote Elvis Costello. So, what I’d like to do is set the space for what we’re going to do. So, a lot of you are familiar with creating norms or working agreements. I really like this framework of gracious space from the Center for Ethical Leadership, because in one sentence, we’ve encompassed several important norms or working agreements, so we start out with a spirit. So, a spirit, what are we gathering for? A lot of times when we use this gracious space framework, we have two kinds of primary goals. One is to bring people together to create connection, towards creating innovation or adaptive learning together.

The other thing we might do with creating this spirit is when we want to have difficult conversations. And so, using this framework gives us the opportunity to have a safe container, so that spirit with which we’re arriving, a setting. So, our setting right now is mostly Zoom rooms. In the past, it might be making sure that we had an accessible space with plenty of restrooms, food that met people’s dietary needs, ways that everybody could participate in the room, and keeping an eye on that. And so, with Zoom, we might be looking to make sure that we have closed captioning for folks or regular bricks to honor people’s need to move around, feed themselves, take bio breaks, attend to children and pets. That’s all our new reality in the Zoom world.

Where we invite the stranger, so the stranger is not meant to be an othering idea here. It’s about inviting different voices, different worldviews, different perspectives into the conversation, really letting people know that what we want to do is foster a space where everyone can present their ideas, their reactions, without feeling like they have to fit in, they have to belong, they have to say what everybody else is. And then the fourth part is learning in public. So, getting excited about those moments where we can say like, “Oops, I didn’t know that,” or, “Gosh, I was really taught something that’s contrary to what I’m now learning,” and to have the grace and humility to do that. Because when we do it, when I say, oops, then there’s more space for you to do that. There’s more space for us to learn together.

 A lot of us don’t get it right the first time, and sometimes we don’t get it right the 20th time, but having space that feels non-judgemental so we can learn in public is really important to move any work forward. The next thing that I really value that is more important with online engagements is getting present. So, what do we need to do? Sometimes it’s just a quick moment, maybe one to 10 minutes of breathing together, doing maybe something a little meditative. For those of you watching right now, I would invite you to do some nice deep breaths with me, in through the nose, out through the mouth. And I even like an exercise where you think soft on the inhale and belly in the exhale. Because the only place we can really do anything from is the present moment, and if we’re not in the present moment, we’re unable to engage and make change and difference.

And by the way, in this image is my dog, Mr. Peabody. He helps me get present because he’s always in the present moment. He’s not ruminating about the past. He’s not future tripping, he’s in the present and he’s engaged. So, I also encourage you to look for who or what helps you connect with the present moment and stay engaged. So, the next thing I want to invite us to do is play. A lot of us grew up in the US education system. And one of the things that I think happened for a lot of us is around second grade, maybe even first grade, maybe even kindergarten, we learned to hold still. And I don’t know about you, but for me, learning to hold still meant checking out of my body, not being as present with myself and not being as creative and engaged because some part of me wasn’t welcome in the room, my fidgetiness, my bouncing foot. Stretching might accidentally get you called on when you weren’t meaning to raise your hand.

 So, we learned to be less in our body and less engaged. And I think that we really learn well when we’re playing, when we’re laughing. Our brain retains stuff, if we’re feeling something when we learn it. And I think the best thing for us to be feeling is delight and joy, humor, so I really want to bring play into the work that we do. And you might notice we’re going like, body in the present, playfulness, getting us into a place where we’re creative and imaginative. And then the next piece I like to bring in is Gary Chapman’s work around love languages. So, getting into our heart and how important it is that we understand what feels like love to us, and then it might be something different for someone else. Even in my family, I can think of my preferred love languages are quality time and physical touch. And so, if someone really wants to make me feel loved, if they do acts of service for me or buy me gifts, it doesn’t really register. It’s like, “Oh, that’s nice.”

But setting time aside where there’s no telephones and we have a conversation together like that, that feels like love to me. And recognizing that a lot of times when we are engaging with other people, we will default to our own love language. So, I might default to giving somebody quality time where that’s a myth to them, and they would appreciate those acts of service and those gifts. So, I think it’s really about getting curious about what makes you feel appreciated because these aren’t just for romantic relationships or familial relationships. In our workplace, how we’re rewarded can be based on these. If we know somebody as a words of affirmation person, making sure that they hear how much we appreciate them can really further the relationship that we’re having together.

The next thing that I think is really great and really useful for me when I’m working with people over Zoom is having people dance, again, playfulness. Music can so influence the mood or the tone of how we’re being together. And so, I think that letting people have little music breaks, little movement breaks helps us open up and get engaged with each other in different ways. It doesn’t keep us stuck seated in one place, square up with the computer or camera. So, that’s really useful. Another piece that I want to bring in, not have a slide for it now, but it’s just talking about the growth mindset. I’m sure a lot of you are familiar with Carol Dweck’s work around mindset and the difference between having a growth and a fixed mindset.

And what I think is really exciting about the growth mindset is I’m not a fixed level of intelligence or capability. I may have things that I find naturally easier to do, but again, in our US culture, a lot of people stick with what they’re good at, which I think it’s great to be strengths-based. But sometimes we’re missing out on this celebration of the plasticity of our brain, our ability to really learn new things, do new things. And if we can recognize that, you can become good at anything and you can become better at everything. You might not be an Olympian, but you could still become a better runner. You could become a faster runner. You could have better form. There’s these things that we can engage with, or you can learn a language.

There are so many ways that we can engage in learning and it gives us the freedom to go, “Ooh, I made a mistake, that’s going to help my learning,” versus, “Ooh, I made a mistake. I’m ashamed, I’m embarrassed, and I don’t feel like I’m connected to folks anymore.” There’s so much freedom in the I made the mistake towards greater learning versus I’ve made a mistake, I’m going to shut down and I need to defend my smartness, my capability. So, I think it’s really important for us to recognize that getting into that growth mindset just opens up the world for us and other people. And we can meet people where they’re at without protecting our images.

So, what I want to have people do in my session later today, what I want to impress upon you is often when we get to help each other, when we get to lean into doing work together that serves us, that’s where some real relationship is formed. And I think it’s really important, whenever anybody comes into a facilitated session, that they get to walk away with some call to action or some clarity about something that they maybe were confused about. So, I like to set people up in trios or quads and have them do a coaching circle. So, work on their listening skills. Somebody gets to be the coachee. They get to be somebody who says, “I have something, a decision I need to make. I’m stumped on it. Let me talk it out, let me get some support.” We put people in roles like the coach who’s really tasked with asking good questions that help people often uncover their own solutions, and then having somebody else in an observer role.

And if we have four people, maybe that fourth person is in this balcony role, where they’re not getting attached to a content, but looking at the context, seeing what this bigger story is that might be going on. And rotating through that so everybody gets to play each role is something that I’ve seen just amazing results, where people are really helping and supporting each other. So, that’s something that I’m going to be doing with folks later this afternoon. But I think that even with groups, if I was getting people together to do something around innovation, or was getting people together to have a conversation about something difficult, I would do these exercises. So, we would build this relationship, something in the emotional bank account where we feel like we’re here for each other and we know each other more deeply based on the stories that we share.

I have a little quote here from Carl Rogers about, “Empathy being a process rather than a state, means entering the private perceptual world of the other and becoming thoroughly at home in it.” So, these kinds of exercises get us into an empathy state. So, after that, I always love to check in with people, what’s in your toolbox now? Even this lightning talk, what thoughts have started rolling around? How are you sparked? How are you going to apply anything you learned here to your workplace, to your family relationships, a community church, those kinds of spaces, in order to get people a little out of the super heavy cerebral, if we think harder, we’ll fix things, and get people really present so that we have all of the human available to do the work together, to be inspired, to be connected?

So, I hope that you can recognize some stuff that you want to put in your toolbox. I know for me, I’m taking the virtual clicker that I have on my cell phone here for this as something that I’m like, “Ooh, that would be really useful in the future to have a tool like that.” So, always looking for, what did I learn? What did I glean? How can I reinforce a behavior that maybe I’ve just started, that I want to continue doing? And then finally, take good care of yourself. Any of the activities you participate in today, tomorrow, Thursday, while we often feel really exhilarated or we’re having a lot of fun, we’re feeling really engaged, it’s really important to recognize that it still causes stress, even if it’s positive stress. And we need to take a little better care of ourselves.

 If you get really triggered by some deep work that you’re doing, knowing that you can take a shower or bath at the end of the day, rinse off those stress hormones that are on your skin, that’ll help you have a better night’s sleep, stay hydrated. And I’m The Peace Nerd. This is my website is You can email me at And if you go to my website in the next week, I will make my lesson plan from today available to you for free, if you subscribe to my newsletter. So, I hope to connect with you, stay connected to you. And I really just want to thank Voltage Control for this opportunity to share what I’ve learned with you and get to learn from all of you as well. That’s my time. I really appreciate you. Take care, see you later.