I’ve been spending time in Riga helping the Latvian Government develop a strategy around smart use of social media for their forthcoming tenure of the 2015 EU Presidency. The past six days of work have been intense, and fun. 42 hours of facilitation plus a further 12 hours of follow up and design tweaks have made for good learning – hopefully for everyone. A busy schedule like this forces you to pay attention. Here are a few things I’ve observed that have helped make for better learning. Maybe some of them will help you too?
Know your work, know your audience (as much as you can), know yourself. I’m grateful on this last point to have spent time with Neil Morrison in Louisiana recently, to learn and be reminded about the importance of looking after yourself. On this trip to Latvia I’ve drunk bottles and bottle of water, breakfast has usually been muesli and fresh fruit, and I’ve been in bed by ten pm.
From experience, most people don’t really want or need to know the finite details of timing, beyond a few key things. They want to know when to start, when the breaks are, and when they finish. And you’d better land that last one, preferably a little early. Beyond that – be flexible. Most people seem to appreciate being given the time to flow into areas of interest over prescriptive detailed timings.
Two Important Questions
How do you want to be? What would you like to get? I’m flexible in my approach – yet these two questions have become my go to starting point for many a session. I want to invite people to set the mood and the tone, and to tell me what they expect to take away. I want to know what good feels like, and looks like too. I’m not a mind reader – so I need to ask. Once the group has discussed and agreed these things – they help keep us on a direction of travel. And we review these things along the way. How well are we holding to them? Do they need to change?
It doesn’t matter how well the work is going – could it go better? What can you do to create a different, memorable experience? For example, I love to find relevant opportunities to work outside, with the emphasis on relevant, not outside. On my first trip here in March it was bitterly cold and snowing, this time it’s been warm spring weather. Last time we huddled together for warmth (not quite), this time we’ve been outside preparing a photo montage that links this wonderful city we are in, to some important work we are doing.
Our work earlier this week coincided with the first ever live televised debate between (most of) the prospective candidates for the European Commission President. I watched the debate on the TV, tweeted about it and used a number of social media monitoring tools to keep an eye across the debate. The event generated just shy of 50,000 tweets so I wasn’t able to keep up completely, but the following day we were able to analyse the event and think about how we could apply the learning to our own work. The timing of this event meant we could only use the learning from it with one group, but it was relevant, so although it wasn’t in our plan – we ran with it.
Do You Have to Make it Mandatory?
I understand if you are teaching people how to lift boxes and pee straight (not necessarily at the same time), that you might need to make attendance mandatory, but you’re not going to hire me to train for these kind of skills (I hope!). If you’ve hired me, chances are you are seeking to do stuff with each other, not to each other, so think carefully – do we want prisoners or willing guests?
Deliver a Performance
OK, so people haven’t bought a ticket to see you live at the Drury Lane, so care is need here not to overdo it (first and foremost your delivery of the work is about them – not you), but my experience shows me that a little (self deprecating) humour goes a long way. People have a right to expect your enthusiasm too, hence the need to conserve your energy. When you get it right, by the end you should leave it all on the ice. By the end you should be spent.
The past few days in Riga have been great fun, and hard work. I’ve learned a lot about the people here, and as always, I’ve learned more about my work. It’s time to head for home. See you soon.