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Nige Collin

conference MC Facilitation tool

Could This Be The Best Facilitation Tool Ever?

By | Conference Tips, Innovation | No Comments

I’ve been facilitating for over 20 years now and am always on the lookout for effective facilitation tools. So when I came upon this I got excited. The story goes that at Virgin’s head office, in their boardroom, is an empty chair. The chair represents the customer, so whenever Sir Richard and his executives get together, symbolically the customer is right there with them. This way they are reminded to see things from the customer’s point of view and not just their own.

Powerful Stuff. And one of the best facilitation tools ever.

Facilitation needs a third person perspective

Often when we’re drawing ideas from others and trying to find creative solutions we get caught up in our own point of view and fail to see things from the point of view of others. As a result we limit our thinking and may even fail to see opportunities outside of our own vision. A third person view of the world can very often make all the difference and so it’s important to see things from someone else’s perspective. To come up with quality business solutions it’s vital to see things in different ways. 

And this is exactly what the empty chair does.

I often use this as a device when facilitating business sessions and also when coaching executives. It is also a brilliant device I often use when facilitating conference sessions. By placing an empty chair at every table and as delegates work through various tasks and problems. They are constantly reminded to consider the customer’s voice, needs, and point of view. As a result, they arrived with solutions that are not from their own point of view but from the point of view of the customer. 

A Facilitation tool to see things through other people point of view.

The empty chair can be used to represent other people as well, such as your stakeholders if they’re opinions and influence are important. Or perhaps the chair could represent a mentor or role model who can symbolically advise you and prompt you to see things differently. 

So why not place an empty chair in your office, boardroom, or creative space? Let it be a reminder to get out of your own head and into the head of someone else and see things from their point of view.

It’s a fantastic facilitation tool to use.

Other related articles to help you get the most from your meeting or events include ‘How to get the most from your conference mc or facilitator’ and ‘4 ways to create delegate engagement at your next meeting or event’.

The Power of Incremental Change

By | Change Management, Leadership | No Comments

There’s an old zen koan (story) of a wealthy man who wanted to build a new house that illustrates the importance of incremental change. He wanted a three-story dwelling so he could look out over his land and marvel at the beautiful landscape for many miles around, and more importantly because the higher one lived the higher one’s status.

And so he contracted highly skilled builders to build his beautiful home. Being a busy man himself he then left them to do what it was he was paying them to do and set off on his business travels. Upon his return several weeks later he decided to see how they had progressed.

To his horror he found that they had only started on the ground floor. ‘Why have you not begun work on the top floor?’ he cried. There could be no status living on the ground floor and much loss of face.

The builders, of course, explained to the wealthy man that they must start at the bottom before they could begin to move up to the next floor and ultimately the top floor. But he wasn’t happy because he didn’t want the other floors, he only wanted and desired the third floor. The others were not needed.

Change is incremental and happens one step at a time

Many business leaders and entrepreneurs are like that. They want change to happen all at once. They set out with massive visions and write enormous BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) and get miffed if it doesn’t happen fast enough. They want to jump straight to the endgame. Many managers are like that as well. They want the yearly budget done by September, or need the return on their innovation investment before the product is ready. The effect of incremental change is often overlooked

Yes having a vision is vital because otherwise how do you know where you are going. Having goals are vital because they make your vision a reality. Without either business doesn’t grow.

But…

Business growth and change takes time. Meeting budgets takes time. Developing your people takes time. In order to get to the endgame, whatever your vision and whatever your goals are, you need to work meticulously on getting every stage right and complete before you move onto the next. Always remember that business is a ‘Game of inches’ and change is incremental.

Like the top floor, your business will only be solid, secure and lasting if you take the time to build everything correctly on the way up. Desired change can only happen in increments.

Related articles include ‘How the McVikers Cashed in on Change‘ and ‘Change Management requires ownership, not buy-in’.

Find out how Nigel can help your conference delegates make change happen, leadership presentations or about his executive coaching and other keynotes.

How the McVikers cashed in on Change

By | Change Management | No Comments

Sometimes the best ideas come when change is thrust upon us. No-one likes change, especially in the corporate world. But change brings with it opportunity. If you have the right mindset for it and take action. It’s change management on a very practical level.

No matter how hard you look sometimes the best and most profitable ideas have a habit of revealing themselves in the strangest of places and the strangest of ways. Usually when things change around us. We just need to be open enough, receptive enough and clever enough to see them when they arise.

When change management is thrust upon us

Take one evening in the dining room of the McViker family for example. The McViker’s owned a small business called Kuto Chemicals, which back in the 1950’s was in a tad of bother. They made a wonderfully ingenious product, a soft, clay-ish compound, which you would roll along dirty wallpaper and all the grime and dust would stick to it. Clever really and in the decades leading up to our infamous dinner date it proved a very successful product because it filled a gap – people wanted cleaner, less grimy walls. And because they were prepared to pay, it was also a good business model as well.

But the tad of bother occurred when the wallpaper industry was in turmoil and in decline because fashion trends meant more people were using paint. Fewer wallpaper sales meant less need, desire and as a result fewer sales for ‘Magic Wallpaper Cleaner’. The gap in the market the McVikers were filling was starting to disappear along with their fortunes.

Change creates opportunities

Enter a kindergarten teacher named Kay Zufall, a friend of the McVikers who had a completely different problem. As a teacher of toddlers, she was sick and tired of how messy the modelling clay was that kids used. If too wet the stuff would never hold its shape, and if too dry it became brittle and just crumbled under the pressure of a two year old’s hands. Either way, there were tears.

So back to dinner, legend has it that Kay mentioned her frustration to her good friends the McVikers and what followed was a conversation leading to one of the McVikers saying something like ‘try this’ and then handed Kay Zufall some a tub of ‘Magic Wallpaper Cleaner’.

It worked like a charm. Not too hard, not too soft, and held it’s shape. Through serendipity, a new gap appeared and ‘PlayDoh’ was born.

Fortunately for us, the tragic demise of ‘Magic Wallpaper resulted in the same product becoming an instant hit in a different market with a different application. It filled a new gap

Thankfully the McVikers were smart enough to accept change and run with it. Imagine if they were so narrow focused, so set on resolving the wallpaper issue that they had missed it. Children all over the planet would never have grown up knowing the joys of ‘Play Doh’, and parents all over the world would never have spent endless hours pulling the stuff out of carpet.

When speaking about change this story frequently gets a mention.

So how much money did the McVikers make? From the initial idea in the mid 1950’s Joe McViker sold Play Doh in 1965 for $3milllion. That’s about $22million in today’s money. Not bad for one idea over decade.

Related articles include ‘Change happens in increments‘. Also
Change Management Requires Ownership, not Buy-in.

Find out more about how Nigel can help your leaders and teams through his change management presentations, executive coaching or other keynotes.


5 ways to destroy your meeting or business event.

By | Conference Tips | No Comments

Like me, you may spend an enormous part of your life in meetings and business events. Whether they are conferences, internal WIPs (work in progress), or boardroom sessions.

I have literally spent my life in conferences and meetings, it’s what I do, and face-to-face meetings and events are very hard to replace. But they can also be non-efficient and costly when done wrong. Fortunately, they are certain pitfalls which can easily be overcome.

So here’s a simple checklist of things to avoid because we if eliminate the bad what we are left with is the good.

Too many things.

Like a good movie where there is a very clear plot with a very clear problem for the hero to solve, a meeting (whether a one on one, business event or a conference of 4000) needs to have a clear objective. Not many, just one. Again, like a movie, once there are too many story-lines it gets hard to follow, and sure there may be subplots involved but they support the main story.

Meetings are no different. As soon as you try cover too many objectives and solve too many problems your participants will become unclear as to why they are there, and what you want them to achieve and worse still, they will then start to dis-engage.

You need to have a clear meeting objective. 
Here’s a simple rule. One meeting, one objective.

Buy-in instead of ownership at your business event.

One of the biggest challenges with a meeting is getting people engaged and staying engaged. Part of the reason that fails is because meeting holders go for buy-in and not ownership. The difference is that you can thrust buy-in onto someone. For example, stating that ‘if you’re not there you are sacked’ will get people buying in to going but it won’t get them engaged. Ownership however is when you find a way for them to want to be involved and to take ownership of the objective and outcomes.

So get them involved early, communicate well, ask for their input and listen.

Squirrel Chasing at meetings

Remember the movie ‘Up’ where the dogs have voice translators on their collars so they can talk to you. However every so often they get distracted and yell out ‘Squirrel!’. When people in meetings get sidetracked and chase squirrels nothing will get resolved. Maybe if you are having a ‘Think Tank’ or ‘Ideation Session’ then squirrel chasing can be advantageous BUT only if it’s directed and structured properly.

The antidotes for squirrel chasing are having a clear objective (one, not many), and designing the right structure and agenda.

Not having a good facilitator

There is an art to facilitating, and yes I am bias. A good facilitator talks less and listens more. They pick up on trends and the flow of conversations, they find open doors of conversation to go through and explore, they ask provocative questions and are prepared to take a hit for the team. And most importantly they are unbiased.

I believe every meeting needs a good, or professional facilitator because they ensure everything that occurs serves the objective and the purpose of the meeting or business event itself.

Dictatorships

Some meetings and events end up as dictatorships where the chair or the holder of the meeting doesn’t just drive it, they won’t let anyone else in the car. Yes meetings need to have someone take the lead, to direct things but that is very different from being bombastic, failing to listen to participants and not being open to ideas.

A great meeting or event is where communication doesn’t flow one way but is multi-directional.

Also check out How to get the most out of your conference facilitator or MC

What Phrenology can teach us about creative thinking

By | Innovation | No Comments

Back in the late 1700s, a revolution happened in the science of the mind. Concerned with determining a person’s psychological attributes or personalities, such as creative thinking ability, it was known as phrenology. It would do this by merely taking head measurements and feeling their skull for the size of bumps and indentations. The principle behind it was that the brain was divided into different segments. Each of which related to a different psychological attribute. How strong that characteristic or attribute was would be determined by the size of that segment. It followed that a large bump pointed to a stronger trait.

For example if you are a good creative thinker then that part of your brain would be more developed. As a result your skull would have an outward bump to accommodate the extra creative grey matter.

Creative Innovation Never Stops

In other words, you could tell a lot about someone, including what they were good at, simply by feeling the bumps on their head. Sounds reasonable. Introduced by Franz Joseph Gall in 1769, it wasn’t until the early 1800s that the science of Phrenology gained momentum and became fashionable among those wanting to be seen as advocates of the scientific method.

Even today L. N. Fowler’s classic phrenology busts are commonly displayed in public spaces and offices. I have one in my own studio, the bald ceramic skull segmented by lines and descriptions defining different ‘organs’ of the brain relating to particular personality attributes. A dominant bump on the top right of your forehead indicates great foresight; a large bump immediately above your left ear suggests destructive tendencies. Fowler himself wrote, ‘For thirty years I have studied crania and living heads from all parts of the world and have found in every instance there is a perfect correspondence between the conformation of the healthy skull of an individual and his known characteristics’.

Of course, we now know that phrenology had absolutely no basis in fact and that there was never any scientific evidence to support it. So why do people like me (and perhaps you) still proudly display replicas of Mr Fowler’s creation (my kids call him George)? Well, I guess they are kind of cool, and a tad retro. Innovation never stops – it evolves.

A Creative Thinking Reminder

It serves as a reminder that we are better at creative thinking than we give ourselves credit for. And as a reminder that just when you think you know everything and you’ve got it right, somewhere, somehow, someone knows more than you and has done it better than you. It reminds me that there is always a second right answer. And that you need to keep an open mind and keep looking for new ideas, new perspectives, new concepts and new empirical evidence.

The truth is, we don’t know everything and we never will; and if you want to improve yourself and your business, you need to be constantly improving your skills and your knowledge.

In the ‘Game of Inches‘, you need to be forever learning. It’s another one of the things all the successful people I have spoken with and read about have in common. They are curious, inquisitive, constantly seeking out knowledge. Commonly seeing learning not just as an academic pursuit but as an integral part of their lives that takes many forms and has many sources. It forms the basis of my keynote presentations

Related articles include ‘3 Big Innovation Barriers

4 ways to create delegate engagement using downtime at your next meeting or event.

By | Conference Tips | No Comments

I don’t know about you but it seems to me that too often there simply isn’t time to think or ponder, or have those all-important candid conversations about things.

As human beings we need time and space to digest ideas and mull over discussions and simply let things sink in. It’s the downtime that allows us to effectively learn and more importantly process information.

Think about your own experiences and you’ll find it’s often during this free time that the best ideas present themselves or the penny drops about a topic or conversation we’ve just been part of.

So why is it then that in the world of meetings and events too often we are presented with agendas that are crammed so full that no one has time to breathe let alone think?

To effectively get people to engage with the content, take on board what is being discussed and more importantly act on it, downtime is paramount.

When designing a conference program or a meeting schedule we need to consider the downtime and free space as being just as important as the busy bits. If not more so. Especially when it comes to engaging your conference audience.

So here are four ways to design effective downtime.

Make sure you have time buffers between sessions.

Having a presentation finish at 10.30am and the next starting at 10.31am is ludicrous, (and yes it does happen). Not only do sessions run over but you need time for the audience to digest what has just been said, perhaps chat about it for a bit and then reset for what is coming next. Have at least 5 minutes between sessions

Allocate participation time

Just before everyone heads out to a break have a good portion of time for your facilitator or MC to get people revisiting the sessions they have just experienced. Get them to talk about what one thing really stood out for them or how they can apply the information to their own workplace.

Design time for serendipity

Let’s face it, some of the best moments, ideas and opportunities happen when you least expect them. It’s during those candid conversations that ideas are triggered, new relationships are built and clarity strikes. You can’t force serendipity but you can help it along by providing the right stimulus and the right environment. Which also means you need to allow plenty of free time for it to occur.

Delete and Space.

Finally and most importantly, look over your program and make sure there is at least 5-10 minutes of free time for every hour. Cut down the length of sessions if you have to. Be brave and delete 15 minutes either end of the day and then space the remaining sessions out. Your delegates will love you for it because they’ll have enough time to engage and connect with your content, your message and find ways to act on it.

A related article is ‘5 ways to destroy your meeting or event’

Find out how Nigel can help facilitate or MC  your next conference or event. 

3 Big Innovation Barriers.

By | Innovation | No Comments

Innovation is massively important because it is what helps a business grow, outpace their competition, change with the times and profit. But in pursuing our need and lust for innovation there lie a number of barriers, challenges and traps that actually hinder and stop innovation in its tracks.

1. The myth of BIG:

There is the myth out there that in order to be successful we need to be radically disruptive, we need to find the next big innovation, come up with the next Uber or reinvent the iPhone. And that simply isn’t true.  

We constantly hear and talk about stories of start-ups who began with a radical idea and who changed the world and made millions, if not billions in the process. But the reality is that the Ubers of this world are few and far between.

But who said that innovation had to be about big radical disruption?

Many businesses and their leaders, like I once did, believe that success and profitable growth relies on finding that one ‘Eureka’ idea. Truth is though business success isn’t about one single innovation but many small-scale innovations strung together. Business success comes by consistently finding innovative ways to improve everything you do. And those innovations don’t need to be big or radical, they simply need to work, be effective and make your business money.

I’m not saying if you do happen to invent the next Google or the next Uber not to go for it but what I am s saying is don’t let it be to the detriment of the business in front of you.

Many really successful businesses have never had a disruptive idea what they have done extraordinarily well is consistently find ways to do things better than their competitors and before the competitors. I have interviewed literally hundreds of successful entrepreneurs and business leaders and the one thing that stands out is their ability and their passion for constant improvement. When speaking it’s something I’ve seen audiences at innovation conferences always keen to discuss.

To overcome this barrier to innovation we need to change our view of innovation from being radical and large-scale to being achievable, effective and everyday.

2. Complexity:

Most people see innovation as too costly, too risky, too time-consuming and way too complex. Which is another challenge worth overcoming.

In companies all over the planet are innovation champions with a myriad of innovation degrees and various models and systems that measure, test, analyse, re-measure and re-test. All valid and effective.

Thing is, ask your people to be innovative and they’ll run because there is someone up on level three who does that, and they are way too busy to get involved anyway. They see innovation as a challenge

But give your people a simple achievable process and back it up with a culture to support them and they will perform miracles.

Simply ask them to find a problem or a gap, come up with a solution, act on it and gauge whether it works or not and you’ll have an endless supply of innovative solutions.

Who said innovation has to be complicated?

3: Micromanagement:

Here’s the deal. If you want innovation as part of your business on an everyday basis then you need to give your people permission to not just find effective solutions but let them act of those solutions and stuff those solutions up as well.

If you want to suppress the desire of your team to be constantly finding ways of doing things better then all you need to do is look over their shoulders and tell them how to do everything. Micromanagement is a massive barrier to innovation thriving in your business.

It’s one thing to give a directive of everyday, small-scale innovation to your people but it’s another thing entirely to let them take the initiative and the responsibility

Build an innovation culture that give them permission to not just have ideas but also put them in place. Let them know it’s okay to try something and get it wrong as long as they learn from mistakes.

When speaking with audiences I see all the time the lights come on and the heads nod when these three big myths are debunked.

Business success isn’t a result of finding and successfully implementing a single ‘Eureka’ idea. It’s the culmination of many scale-scale innovations and of consistently finding innovative ways to improve everything you do. Business success is a ‘Game of Inches’.

A related article to this is ‘How do I foster an innovation culture in my team?

How do I foster an innovation culture in my team?

By | Innovation, Leadership | No Comments

Building an innovation culture is a ‘Game of Inches’ and not a one-off event or a single “eureka”’ idea.

Success comes from incrementally moving forward and finding innovative ways to consistently improve your business. So how do you help your people be innovative every day?

As an innovation speaker, one of the challenges with this is that innovation is seen too often as large-scale radical disruption. There’s a stance out there for many businesses that to become more profitable and move to the next level they need to find the next big thing. As a result, most of your team see innovation as a scary and inaccessible proposition because it is too complex, too risky and too hard.

Let’s face it: most people in your organisation are simply trying to keep up with their own workload and their own processes on a day-to-day basis, so they don’t have the time or inclination to focus on innovative solutions for the entire business. But what if you shift that?

What if you change the view of innovation and its role?

What if rather than seeing it as disruptive you see it as an achievable everyday process and encourage your people to find ways of improving their part of the business, no matter how big or how small the improvement may be? Imagine the difference that would make throughout your organisation because great ideas and solutions are ones that are workable, profitable and make a difference to your business in a positive way.

To do that requires not just a shift in mindset from large-scale innovation to small-scale innovation.

Give your team permission to be innovative each and every day.

It also requires you to give your team permission to seek ideas that improve their world and more importantly act on those ideas. If they don’t feel they have your permission to do so then chances are they won’t .

You also need to be brave enough to give them permission to make mistakes. The good news is if you fail on a small-scale improvement it’s not going to break you. As Mark Evans, owner of Paronella Park in Queensland once told me: “You don’t learn anything if you don’t fail. ”

So always ask: “What did you learn and what can be done differently next time?”

Your team needs to measure the difference their innovative ideas are making.

Finally, great innovative ideas need to make a difference to your business in a positive way so you need to know how effective any improvements are. That doesn’t need to be complex because it could be as simple as measuring time saved, improved conversion rates or cost savings.

Here’s a case-study we did a while back on how a small change (16 footsteps in fact) added $30k difference to the bottom line of a restaurant.

It’s a shift from big to small – when researching innovation cultures I see it all the time

Remember business success is a game of inches. Ask your people to invent the next Google or come up with the next Uber and they will freeze with panic and fear. (The myth of big is one of the challenges to innovation in most organisations). But fostering a culture of achievable small-scale innovation and they will achieve greatness.

Related articles include ‘What Phrenology can teach us about creative thinking

Find out more about how Nigel can help your leaders and teams through his executive coaching, and other keynotes

Conference Facilitator and Conference MC

How to get the most from your conference facilitator and MC.

By | Conference Tips | No Comments

I was recently driving with my son through Sydney when the car in front of us switched lanes without any warning right in front of another vehicle. Behind was another car who then needed to slap on their brakes to give everyone room. I calmly explained to my son ‘that’s why you need the 3 second rule’. You know, the one that says no matter the speed you’re doing make sure there is always a 3seconds between you and the car in front. Sadly there are a few drivers out there who don’t know about the 3 second rule. (Good thing I’m perfect!)

If we have buffer zones when driving then why don’t we have buffer zones in event run sheets? To get the most from your conference facilitator or MC you need to ensure there is enough room – timewise.

So often in event programs there is no room for error when it comes to time, if one keynote speaker goes overtime, or your delegates are late from a break, it creates a cascading effect catch-up and havoc. It throws the next few speakers out, shortens Q&A, annoys your sponsors when you cut 10 minutes from lunch and they have less selling time, and your conference facilitator becomes a glorified timekeeper. So I’m jumping on my soapbox and making a plea! Please add, at least, a 5-minute buffer between presentations. ‘Hang on Nige’ I hear you say, ‘if I have 8 speakers during the day that’s 40 minutes of downtime!’ Yes, that’s right, although I’d say it is 40 minutes of productive time. And there are three very good reasons for that.

Here are three reasons why your conference facilitator will love you:

You’ll get the most out of your conference facilitator.

You’re paying good money for your conference facilitator (at least I hope you are) so you want to give them the time needed to edify your speakers, create links, add relevant anecdotes, energise people, and get participants thinking and talking about what they just heard. A good facilitator is a theme weaver, and it’s their job to support and enhance your program, and they can only do that if you give them enough time to do so, otherwise you’ve paid someone who only has time to thank the previous speaker and introduce the next one.

You’ll get the most out of your keynote speakers.

No matter how well you plan someone is going to go over time and the last thing you want is other speakers stressing out. Many internal speakers are thrown (and sadly many professional ones too) if you ask them to trim their time. I’ve coached loads of executive presenters over the years and the one thing I wish I didn’t have to teach them is how to build their presentations so they can cut 5 or 10 minutes off if they need to, without affecting their message or delivery.

Your delegates will learn more, retain and apply more.

Building buffers also helps your conference participants get more from the sessions. Humans need time to digest things, especially when it’s new. Having buffers gives them that chance because it allows them to think about and talk about key points and how to apply them. And it allows them to empty their brains and reset for the next presentation. Neuro-science tells us that the pre-frontal cortex (the thinking part of your brain) drains itself of energy fast and needs to recharge every 20 -30 minutes. (This is one of the reasons for the trend of shorter presentations – but that’s another topic)

It takes the stress out of things for everyone.

I know I said three but this one kind of sums it all up. Nothing more to be said really.

Just as keeping 3-seconds distance between you and the car in front might seem excessive, having a 5-minute buffer between speakers may seem unnecessary, but it will make sure you arrive safely at your conference destination. It will also make sure your participants get the most from the journey and that you get the most from your conference facilitator,
your speakers, and your sponsors.

By the way, this artciel first appeared in micenet magazine in December 2017. Nigel Collin was the author.
Also read ‘
4 ways to create delegate engagement using downtime at your next meeting or event‘.