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Tagged ‘group discussion‘

Spruce Up Your Look!

There is a school of thought that says PowerPoint presentations are passé. Today’s audiences need more dynamic presentation media. I agree with that in the abstract. But in the day to day world where I do most of my work, PowerPoint still has a function – a big function.

A PowerPoint presentation:

1. Keeps me as the speaker on track.

2. Keeps the audience focused on the most important content.

3. Allows discussions to revolve around something everyone is seeing at the same time.

So for those reasons, I still like PowerPoint presentations. And because I’m not a genius at organizing and manipulating new, more dynamic media, I’s sticking with PowerPoint presentations for when I have to convey complex information to a diverse audience.

That doesn’t mean that presentations have to be boring.

Let’s not talk about content right now. That can be a topic for another blog. Today, let’s just talk about the look, namely, customized slide formats.

For several years, I have been working with Tessera Design on virtually every product that leaves my office – proposals, reports, and PowerPoint presentations. I find that Tessera’s customized designs elevate my presentations. Through the artwork and formatting, a consistent theme and message are created and conveyed. It’s a big plus.

This format helped me present a potentially touchy analysis of Milwaukee’s shelter system. Created by Tessera in 2010, the design had the effect of conveying that the system was itself embarking on a path of self-improvement.

At the front door1The theme was repeated with the presentations slides, reinforcing the notion that the purpose of the analysis was to drive process improvements rather than criticize.

At the front door2One of my favorite slide formats was put together for a presentation to WISCAP (2012) on developing Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Area (NRSA) Plans. The NRSA designation is a creation of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that enables a local government to use federal funding much more flexibly in accordance with a plan developed collaboratively with neighborhood residents, business, and other stakeholders. It sounds like a dry, boring process but it’s actually terrific fun. A good NRSA has a lot of community involvement, a lot of people who love their neighborhood come together to make it better.

What better than a beautiful fall scene to make people see the promise of a NRSA?

NRSA1

Can’t you just see the neighbors out raking leaves and hear kids playing basketball in the background? The companion format for this gave just a thread of the same feel.

NRSA2

These are just two examples of many customized looks created by Tessera Design. They are offered here just to spark your thinking about what extra could be added to your PowerPoint. How can you make your PowerPoint pop? How can you separate yourself and your important project from the ‘ho-hum’ of PowerPoint presentations.

This is one way. No singing ducks or interactive surveys. Just good, clear information presented in a new, interesting way.


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The Difference between a Discussion and a Facilitated Discussion: Part 1

The nonprofit world loves meetings. An issue comes up. We need a meeting. A plan needs to be developed. We need a meeting.

We move as a group.

Personally, I think this is a good thing. Most projects will be made better if more people participate in the discussion.

But the key word is participate.

How many group discussions have you attended this month where two or three people do all the talking and the rest of the folks might as well be potted plants? It’s more than one, isn’t it? Two, three, dozens?

Generally a group discussion will follow an agenda. Most people think that an agenda is enough to keep a discussion ‘on track’ and keep participants from wandering off or circling back. An agenda may accomplish that goal but it won’t produce the type of results possible with a facilitated discussion.

Among the shortcomings of a regular group discussion is that a few people will dominate and others will coast. Unless an issue is of critical importance to a participant, he/she will wait for someone else to speak up and lead. That someone else invariably becomes the opinion leader for the group. If there are a couple of folks who speak up, they steer the discussion. In the absence of countervailing forces (other points of view), they set the group’s direction. But because not all were heard from and not all ideas put on the table, enthusiasm for next steps is weak, ownership is shallow, and progress is negligible.

Another problem with agenda-driven, non-facilitated group discussions is that they are topic-focused and not outcome-focused. When the group decides that an agenda topic has been covered (usually because no one has anything else to say), the next topic is tackled until each agenda item has gathered its share of opinions. “Does anyone have anything else to add?” is a question usually met with silence. “Ok, then, let’s go to the next item.”

People will leave a group discussion like this one feeling as if they have done their duty. They attended the meeting and maybe put in their two cents. Scratch that one off the calendar and go to the next gathering of the potted plants.

They probably won’t feel like they’ve made progress, built something, laid the foundation for a larger effort. That’s what would come from a facilitated discussion.

More about facilitated discussions in Part Two of this series.

 

 

 

 


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Quick Tip #1: Protect Your Meeting from Hijackers

Facilitating a group meeting, especially about a thorny subject, opens the door for hijacking if you’re not careful.  A meeting hijacking is when someone with a very strong point of view starts off the group discussion, setting a negative tone and direction for the meeting.  When this happens, other group members who are less willing to be vocal shrink before your very eyes.  They become spectators rather than participants.  It’s not pretty.

Here’s one way to avoid a hijacking

1.  Prepare for the meeting by developing THREE KEY QUESTIONS.  For example: “How did this report help you better understand this problem in Milwaukee.”  “What concerns raised by the report need to be addressed in the next revision?”  “What are three ways we could improve our system moving forward?”

2.  Start the meeting by asking each person – on their own/with no discussion – to provide written answers to the questions. 

3.  Open the discussion by going from person to person to get their responses.  As facilitator, use your ability to tie ideas together and to suggest other areas for consideration.

4. Continue to ask for elaboration, new ideas, while keeping the general framework of the questions as the agenda for the meeting.

Why this works:

  • The action of writing one’s ideas down on paper empowers people.  If they write an idea down, they want to be sure to express it.  It becomes more valuable to them.
  • If there is a potential hijacker in the room, his/her ideas become equal to everyone else’s.  The imperative of the ‘paper’ means that all ideas must be heard.  This makes it very awkward to monopolize the conversation.
  • The strategy reduces the likelihood that the group will take off on an unproductive tangent.  The facilitator can always bring people back to the key questions.
  • Participants’ written answers are ready-made notes of the meeting.  It’s not necessary but I ask people to identify themselves on these little surveys and it helps later when I want to seek clarification.

 This works for me and I’ve used it in some pretty touchy situations.  Let me know what you think.


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