Do you know Myriam Hadnes? If not, and you are into facilitation, you are missing out! Myriam is a facilitator, behavioural economist, curator, podcast host, and more based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. I first came across her testimony via her fantastic podcast workshops.work. In it, she explores, together with different guest practitioners, the magic ingredients that make a good workshop and facilitate true collaboration.
In 2020, Miriam started to curate a global facilitator community called NeverDoneBefore, whose closing highlight is a 24-hour online Facilitation festival.
I came across this Festival in Myriam’s LinkedIn feed. I immediately knew it would be my dream event. A place where to talk about facilitation with other facilitators from all over the world, in sessions facilitated by practitioners leading in their field of facilitation. When I read about it, my mind was blown 🤯🤯🤯. If you look at the programme, you will get it! The only downside was the quite hefty participation fee… Luckily, Mural partnered with Myriam and offered a scholarship. I managed to get over myself, applied, and was even luckier to get it.
The festival started at 00:00 CET sharp on the 19th of November 2021 with an opening speech by Myriam herself. She invited us to sit with her at a table and share a family dinner. Through the invitation, she would like us to forget formalities and engage with everyone with the same curiosity you bring towards a family member you have not seen in a while. In the following 24 hours, I attended 14 workshops, dove deep in at least the same number of breakout rooms, talked with folks from East Australia to the US West Coast and everywhere in between and made countless new connections and even a few facilitator friendships along the way. I managed to attend the entire 24 hours without a moment of sleep.
Don’t worry! In this post, I will not summarise all 1.440 minutes of the best time I had in 2021. I will share the top ten learnings I am taking away from the festival and how that will shape 2022 for Affective Facilitation and myself.
1. A deep connection with strangers is possible if the framing is there.
Let’s be honest. I struggle to talk to strangers; “network” is usually my enemy. I know it sounds nonsensical for a facilitator to not like to talk to people, but the role of a facilitator is almost like a permission slip to interact with others. When it is just plain old me, I hesitate to speak with someone uninvited, worrying about bothering them. Therefore, I am always grateful when getting to know each other is facilitated and creates small moments of initial connection.
The way Patrick D. Cowden did it for the NDB Festival blew my mind. His approach to pair appreciation and sharing with strict interaction protocols allowed connection to happen almost instantly. For me, these protocols created a sense of safety in how and what to share, and the consecutive rounds enabled a deeper and more profound connection even though conversation partners changed.
2. Tap into ALL your past experiences
When I signed up for Roumayne Schepers workshop ‘Art-Based Learning in the Virtual Museum’, I thought I knew what I was in for. I have participated in many workshops, which used arts-based activities and methods for reflection, visioning and ideation. I even have some of them in my own regular facilitator back pocket. However, I did not know that Roumayne would take us down a very different road. At first, she asked us to come up with a question that was moving us at that moment and then to forget all about it. Next, she invited us to an actual virtual museum where we could move around and choose a painting that spoke to us at that moment. What now followed were different reflection exercises focussed on the image. Only in the last step, we returned to our question.
I took from this workshop the profound impact of the exercise itself and the reminder that all my past experiences are valid and can find their space in my facilitation practice. Having previously studied art, it never occurred to me that methods or approaches I would have used with school pupils could be transformed into impactful facilitation practices. What Roumayne did was take a very typical strategy of art interpretation and twist it into a self-reflection/-exploration workshop which could be applied to coaching or mentoring environments.
3. Facilitation Supervision? Hell, yeah!
Supervision is common in psychology and coaching, but Amaranatho Robey hosted one for facilitators, which blew my mind. First, some participants shared challenging moments in their recent facilitation practice or business under his attentive guidance. Then, digging deeper and deeper, Amaranatho asked challenging and constructive questions and the other participants held a space of learning, confidentiality and safety. I have never before learned so much about my own practice while just being a bystander to someone else’s reflection!
4. The Queen lines path to my Zone of Genius – Concept overload.
One session I attended what ‘Using Archetypes to Step into your Zone of Genious’ by Janina Kreienbrink, Martin Frederik Garbers, and Yona Lu. It was a lovely session and allowed me to connect with two of the most beautiful souls of the NDB community – you know who you are! 😉 Each of the three facilitators brought one of their practices to the session and wove a beautiful tapestry of connection and sharing.
Nevertheless, in my small group, we felt it was too much. They pulled us back after every breakout room and added a new layer for reflection. But, the connection we had in our group was so profound and deep that each new step felt like pulling us back out of what we were exploring. It left me unsatisfied and tainted this lovely session with a bad feeling.
This session remained in my mind as a reminder that – really- sometimes less is more, and all the beautiful and impactful practices we as facilitators bring need to be dosed with care.
5. Focus on the outcomes does not mean neglecting the process.
Often practitioners of Non-formal and Human Rights Education are prone to neglecting the session outcomes as we are so focused on process – aka the core of experiential learning. That is also true for me in many settings. Nevertheless, during the ‘The Facilitation Gift Exchange’ session by Sean Sapcario, Coline Pannier and Anna Darmenia, I received a gift that shifted my mind – Creating a shared laser focus on outcomes. I got my facilitation gift from the lovely Anna Sanders. Her approach to centring the outcome actually increased the impact of the process as it allowed for stronger ownership by the participants, an alignment of expectations and simpler anticipation of needs.
I came out of that session inspired and playing with some ideas on working with physical representations of the purpose/expected outcomes. One of the ideas was to give each participant a small item like a stone, marble, or figurine representing the purpose of a meeting. Its tactility would allow for sensual reminders in the subconscious. Other ways could be a collaborative practice or movement, which activates psychomotoric triggers, or visual representation stimulating the visual thinking.
6. There is space for leaderless leadership.
My beloved facilitation friend Bastian Küntzel hosted the session ‘Layers of Leadership’, in which we reflected on what makes our favourite leaders unique. He introduced us to the four layers of leadership – self, interpersonal, organisational and cultural leadership. In the discussion, the group explored if a great leader shows only excellence in one of the layers or some degree in all of them.
What came up for me was whether we actually need any type of leadership beyond self-leadership. According to Bastian, self-leadership is the ability to intrinsically motivate oneself and act upon a set of values. Collective or cooperative decision-making could make the notion of a leader redundant and re-empower informal and formal groups. This way, movements, communities and similar could sustain beyond a leader’s lifespan as they didn’t gather around an individuals vision but a collective vision or identity. I would love to explore this leaderless leadership, especially in movement and change work. Thinkers like adrienne mare brown and her sister Autumn Brown already referred to this notion in their work related to emergent strategies.
7. Facilitation is a crisis management tool.
Thomas Lahnthaler drew with his session ‘Crisis Management meets Workshop Facilitation’ a clear connection between crisis managers and facilitators regarding the skills, dynamics and mindsets typical for each. And, he touched on something that I had been sensing for myself for a while now. For a long time already, I have been convinced that people affected by conflict and crisis could hugely benefit from the approaches used in facilitation and Non-formal Education. Nevertheless, I always looked at this sector from the outside with no access to humanitarian aid space. But, Thomas comes to it from the inside. He has been an international crisis professional working in countries worldwide for many years. Based on this experience, he concluded that, yes, this space would benefit from facilitation!
8. Step Up/Step Back applied with purpose can change dynamics in the room.
Some years back, I took an online class about virtual facilitation. The course designers insisted that the facilitator stays neutral and does not share anything personal – even in cases where that could allow for deeper sharing. I always found this approach very challenging as, in the past, I often led with my own vulnerability to enable participants to open up easier.
In ‘The Perks of Taking the First Step’, Flor Ortelli played with the notion of the facilitator going first when sharing reflections, outcomes or stories. She used this in different ways. In one activity, she used her invention outcome to explain the process. By sharing her fear in another exercise, she set a frame for sharing that made it feel safer for us to go next. Another time, she went first to give us time for coming up with an idea.
Besides framing an activity, her going first also created a sense of psychological safety. This aspect could be transferred to a leader/boss going first in a meeting. Her approach can also be purposefully be used to shape the dynamics in the room.
9. Online tools cannot replace in-person, but more is possible than just Zoom.
It will not surprise anyone, but I am not the biggest fan of online learning spaces. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, my way of working with youth and youth workers was entirely wiped out. The way I worked depended so much on being in the same physical space, sitting in a circle, and witnessing everyone in the group. I worked a lot with sensing and creating the space in a purpose-driven way. All that was out of the window when meeting in person became a health risk. I had to build new muscles and get used to how technical tools changed my practice. There was a lot of resistance on my end.
But, what already started with my experience organising the Open Lens Study Group, continued with the NDB Festival. In every moment, I felt the love folks gave when creating the space, from Lucie Agolini‘s design of the Welo space and Myriam’s curation of the different sessions to the creativity and risk-taking of the facilitators and the kindness of each and every participant. It was, in part, like being at a physical festival. Actually, the virtual setting did allow me to step out of my social awkwardness easier and make way more connections than I would have ever done in an in-person event.
10. There is no one way to facilitate – and there is a space for me.
Cliff Pollan of Welo shared in my first session during the festival ‘Creating 1 Million Facilitators’ that there is a massive gap between the number of meetings and the number of professional facilitators. Of course, we will never reach a point where a facilitator is present in every meeting worldwide, but there is also enormous potential for training and upskilling the people in the room. If NDB teaches you one thing, then facilitators come in all shapes and sizes – all functions and approaches. Some of us work in giant multinationals. Some consult with the climate innovation sector. Others train change and movement workers or hold space for mental health practitioners. No matter if corporate, not-for-profit or independent consultant, we all – as Myriam says so beautifully – change the world one workshop at a time.
Joining NDB was a homecoming for me. It affirmed that there is space for a weird little hopeful lefty like me. I, too, have the right to make, hold and take space.
As my tenth learning already indicated, the consequence of the 2021 NDB Festival for me is a solid re-commitment to Affective Facilitation and transitioning into my purpose. I am writing it here in black and white. By the end of 2022, I will have a clear and actionable path to fully becoming an independent Trainer, Facilitator and Visual Practitioner. That means for you more reliable content here and on social media, more collaboration with other practitioners and exploring the business side of facilitation.
Now that you heard about mine, what are the most impactful 24 hours of your life – personally or professionally? Let me know by leaving a comment here or shooting me an email. If this little write-up about the 2021 NDB Festival touched you in any way, please share it with your facilitator friends!
Bonus question: 😜 Is there a learning or two you would love to hear more about or a facilitator you would want to dive deep with?
Love and Appreciation,
P.S: If you are curious about NDB, the year-long community leading up to the 2022 festival is still open for new members. Discover the NDB Facilitators’ Greenhouse here.