On August 23rd the big news was Libya. We had our show set up, crews and reporters in position, material fed, edited, and written. We were ready. 10 minutes before our newscast the East Coast Earthquake hit. Everything changed. Phones rang, managers charged, producers freaked, and the show went out the window.
My co-workers and I sent every known picture we had of the area hit to the control room so the producer and director had visuals they could take to air. Our crew was sent to Cal Tech for interviews with the experts. We looked and listened for any material that related to the quake. Like a mental chess game we were moving pieces around. Deadlines were instantaneous. Every second a deadline was met and solutions implemented. Everything was going crazy around us but we were calm. We were the eye of the hurricane. It was exhausting and exhilarating at the same time because we were part of the process and invested in the solution. How many people walk out of, or into a meeting feeling this way? How many feel as if they’re accomplishing something? Anything? We all facilitate in some way or another. Sometimes we lead. Sometimes we take a back seat. We all try to work side by side.
In the newsroom, we have each other’s back. Between the time we walk in and ‘make air’ there are a thousand and one things that can go wrong. We are prepared. We aren’t afraid to step in and take action. Mistakes happen. That’s how we learn. We are bombarded every day with information. We are an emergency room (without the blood). We have our roles. We know what we need to do. We process, organize, prioritize, and execute. There isn’t too much difference from what we do and what most smart businesses do. Different methods maybe, but when you work together to create a successful outcome, it’s invigorating. We are part of the process and invested in the solution.
Preparation is paramount and most facilitators walk in prepared. There are very few surprises. But what happens when things go wrong? Are you prepared? We have a saying in the news business. It’s not the breakdown but the recovery. Technology is usually the biggest culprit. But technology is a tool. Choose it, don’t chase it! Your best tool is your brain…the greatest computer on Earth. When technology breaks down your best back up plan are the “stone age” implements of yore…pen and paper; your melodious voice; open a window, bring in fans, or move to another room.
Because of my training and skills I have positioned myself as an emergency facilitator. I can walk in cold and run your meeting. Flight attendants, pilots, firefighters, police officers, nurses, doctors, and paramedics are trained emergency facilitators. Their methods are different but they all have a desired outcome. Keep people safe, keep them alive, and get them to their destination. In business what is your desired outcome? Do your meetings meet these criteria? Do people feel safe in the meeting to express themselves without judgment and repercussions? Do you get them where they need to go? Are solutions implemented? Does everyone know what their role is? Do you have each other’s back?
Learn to Function as an Emergency Facilitator
Preparing for a facilitation emergency. Your phone rings. A frantic voice on the other end says, “We’ve lost our facilitator. How fast can you get here?” Make sure they don’t hang up! Ask the following questions:
• Where is the meeting taking place? What floor? Who should I see when I first arrive or do I go straight to the room?
• Is the agenda set?
• Can you give me a quick overview of the agenda?
• What is the purpose of the meeting? What do you want to accomplish?
• What type of meeting is it? Is it strategic, staff, planning, inter-departmental, etc?
• How many people will be attending the meeting and who are they?
• How long is the meeting expected to last?
• What type of technology has been set up for the meeting? Computers, Microphones (Lav or Podium)? Is a flip chart available? If not, you better have one on you at all times!
Remember, you didn’t prepare for this meeting so try to get as many questions answered as you can. If the person on the line doesn’t have answers to these questions ask for someone who does. As an emergency facilitator you should be prepared for anything. You should be able to walk in “blind” because your skills and talent will carry you through.
Open graciously. When you walk into the room have a smile on your face, a song in your voice, and a strong gait. Keep your head held high and good posture (remember what your mother said). There’s a delicate balance at this point. You want to have a commanding presence and a calming effect. Introduce yourself and explain why you are there if they don’t already know (and if they do, explain it again). Thank them for having you in the meeting. When you walk in ‘cold’ you have to ‘read’ the situation.
It’s not a race. So there’s no need to rush. As John Wooden was famous for saying, “Be quick but don’t hurry.” Take your time to get to know the players. Ask their names and positions in the company. Ask, “Is everyone here who is supposed to be here?” “Are we waiting for anyone?”
Ask for help. If you need flip chart markers, ask someone to locate some. If you’re presenting with a computer you’re not familiar with it, ask an audience member to run it for you. Ask questions until you get the answers you need. Ask for help when you need it and even if you don’t. You won’t look weak or lack credibility. Involving others grants them ownership.
Set boundaries. If the meeting is expected to start at a specific time than do it. The participants’ time is extremely important. By starting on time you let the audience know you value them. “Let’s get started” is the best way I find to get the meeting going. You want them to know you feel the meeting is as important as they do.
Walk the room. You as the facilitator can move around the room. Use this tool to retain or recover audience attention. If you’re in the front, move to the back. You can walk around the table a few times as you’re speaking. The audience will follow you as you move.
Turn up the volume. Vary your voice level. When you start to see participant’s eyes glaze over bring your voice up a bit. This is why commercials are louder than regular programming on TV. The audience will stay with you when your energy is high.
Keep “on time”. Facilitate using the system and method you believe is best for the meeting depending on the time you’re given. Be ready for anything. Murphy’s Law will creep in. Remain calm at all times and stay positive! Perception is everything. Don’t let anything ‘shake, rattle, or roll’ you. Enjoy yourself and the audience will enjoy following you.
About the Author: Renee Shatanoff is a Freelance Technical Operations Engineer for broadcast news, now beginning her second career as an emergency meeting facilitator for her own company, Harnessed Lightning: Igniting Business With A Social Beat. Her skills and training have prepared her to walk in ‘cold’ and run your meeting with little or no advanced preparation. She is challenged and excited by the prospect of meeting smart, engaging, and genuine people who have a lot to offer on this new career path.
Which of the behaviors above might you adopt to better respond to, if not the facilitation emergencies in your life, at least to the unexpected changes that may happen in your groups? Please share your questions, feedback, or experience on this topic in the comments section below.