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We have all been there. Listening to someone talk about what you already know. Smiling at a facilitator who is trying to herd cats. A PowerPoint deck that is there purely for shooting holes in that will have no chance of a life later on.

As a facilitator that has watched every tactic in the book from misbehaving participants to executive leadership fights to the professional Sleep (yes, sleeping experts) and IBS patients on the other side, I have developed a few tricks for use when I am a recipient and a giver of such love.

Use images

I don’t mean the cheesy stock photography that everyone seems to throw into their presentations nowadays. I mean meaningful visual capture of information. You no doubt hear people comment all the time that they are ‘visual learners.’ We scribble models on napkins and white boards all the time. But there is a better way. Stop the manager or facilitator from using the worn out marker and take a better approach.


  1. Build a visual: Before the meeting or training or event, have a manager build an infographic with an online tool. My favorite is or a mind map version like MindMeister. Just by organizing some of the content this way, you will improve the meeting
  2. Do a visual exercise: Have everyone draw a photo or model of what they are trying to solve for. Better yet, give them colors to draw it. Even better? Teach them how to draw models in 3 minutes and your strategy work will never be the same. Use the infamous ‘back of the napkin’ strategy from Southwest Airlines. Use our 200 free exercises here.
  3. Hire a graphic facilitator: The best way by far though is to hire a different type of facilitator… a graphic facilitator, sometimes known as a scribe or graphic capture. They, in real time, listen to the conversation and summarize it with words and pictures. If you are conjuring up images of the UPS guy at a white board in 2006 TV commercials… you are close. There are countless experts at the motion and still versions. Ink Factory is the biggest in the midwest and ImageThink is the most famous.  There are also highly specialized experts that are part of teams defining the future of education and work at MIT and Harvard that do more than capture, but create models to transform the way you see things. There are only a few people in the world that can do this. Please contact me if you would like their name (they are booked months to years in advance)  Or just take a class. Alphachimp studios offers some of the best online courses.

Use relationships

Yes, this might seem blatantly obvious, but you can radically shift a meeting or event by who you know. Here are 3 retaliation tactics against bad events:

  1. Use relationships to set up a backchannel: This is a place where some or all the participants can share and see what others are thinking. If there are bad parts of the agenda and the backchannel chatters… Change ensues! Use text message service like Hoptree or Group Texting. Naturally you could use WhatsApp or other more common services but instead, how about supporting the little guys like Telegram. And if you have a socially active group, use Twitter or private Facebook group.
  2. Use relationships to offer micro-tweaks: What are those? Simply ask the manager or facilitator or person talking the most… one of these simple questions. BUT, before you do, talk to two of your better relationships/connections BEFOREHAND and make sure they chime in a positive ‘great idea’ comment when you ask your question. This makes all the difference.
    1. If you have been sitting for too long: Can we do this next discussion while walking? Research says that it will double our retention of your content.
    2. If there is any brainstorming that will take place: Can we write our answer down individually for 4 minutes and then share our results in small groups and share back just the best solution? The quality will be much higher for your next round after the meeting
    3. If rapid iteration is needed: Can we use a tool like Ulu, that allows us to contribute work and vote in real time instead of just talking about it?
  3. Use relationships to connect knowledge: Ok. This is a little more difficult, but bosses and teams always talk and frequently bosses talk to bosses across divisions, but less common is employees talking to other employees in different divisions. So what if everyone doesn’t need to take part in everything in the meeting. This is the OPPOSITE of management meetings. This is directly connecting people in the meeting who need to talk across the boundaries of work. For example, a product designer and a sales person and UI designers – roles that normally never connect. Why have a meeting when you can connect people intelligently to avoid most if not all meetings? Some agile workspaces allow for this. Some software looks at people’s networks and enables this – like the sponsor of this blog. Check out the free version here.

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