Sometimes things don’t go the way you planned. Sound familiar?
You reach the end of a day working with a group and you’re disappointed because it didn’t go quite the way you had envisioned. Yeah, there was some interaction and engagement, but it just wasn’t as good as you wanted it to be. So you walked out the room with mixed emotions and so many questions.
- Was it the wrong audience?
- Did you miss something in your preparation?
- Were you off your game?
You just can’t figure out what didn’t work.
I recently had that exact experience.
I was facilitating a workshop for a leadership team. It’s an event we’ve done every year for the past several years as a precursor to their annual strategic planning session. I always look forward to it because they know me, I know them, and I have a deep understanding of their organization because of our long-term relationship.
Though we used to do the workshop for the entire group we had made a decision to break the group of 75 into three separate groups to create more engagement. That put the pressure on me to deliver the same basic program on three consecutive days.
Day one was excellent. In fact, one member of the team told me at the end it was the best program we had ever done. I was humbled by his kind words and excited for the next two days.
Day two was different. Something felt a bit off from the beginning and while there was positive feedback at the end of the day, I walked out feeling that I had failed to some degree. The level of enthusiasm and engagement was just slightly off, and I had to figure out why so that didn’t happen on the third day.
I turned to an approach I’ve used many times that leverages the ideas from my book Public Speaker Secrets and provides a quick and easy format for evaluating what worked, what didn’t, and what to do next time. I call it:
The 3-Step Program Debrief
It’s an intentionally simple process that I can quickly use to examine what happened so I can make adjustments and avoid a repeat the next time (or in the case above on the third day).
Here’s how it works.
Step #1 is about assessing the Place:
• Was there enough space and good lighting? People can struggle to engage when they feel too confined and if the room isn’t large enough or the tables are too close together. This can dramatically change the dynamics.
• Were the people seated in the right places? There is a bit of a science in how you need to place people in the room and at the individual tables, especially when you are in an organization where they work together and know each other.
• Did anything or anyone see to be disconnected? Here you’re looking for distractions that some might notice and others wouldn’t even see, including the non-verbal behaviors of key participants, poorly aligned screens or flip charts, and other out of place things.
Step #2 is about assessing the Program:
• What did I do different this time? When you do a multi-day program that involves a lot of interaction you make adjustments to try and make it better based on your experience. Sometimes those are the wrong adjustments.
• Were there places where the audience seemed confused? Highly interactive programs around new concepts and ideas can create confusion. That leads to questions and sometimes the answers can make things less clear.
• How did the participants interact and participate? Every group has its own persona and some just don’t interact at the same level as others. But you can miss this when you are focused on moving through the content in an effort to give each day’s participants the same experience.
Step three is about assessing the Process:
• Did the process really work on day one, or was it the aberration? There are times when an audience can take a program to a different level than you envisioned, then the next audience can’t live up to the expectations you created.
• Did you tweak something or add new content that created a disconnect? Any time you do a multi-day program you will naturally tweak some things in an effort to make the program better. But sometimes what you think will be better ends up being less effective.
• Was the timing or flow off? Seeking to give the audience what they want and what they need can lead you to go further down a path than you planned. Then you end up having to compress important content to finish on time. And, of course, you sometimes may make a decision on the fly to shift something around that may create an odd impact.
Completing this 3-Step Program Debrief requires a bit of detachment. You simply can’t answer these questions if you start with the belief that whatever you did was correct.
The fact is you are the only constant with each audience—if it didn’t work, it’s up to you to sort out why and adjust to get things back on track.
So what did my debrief of Day Two reveal?
It was sort of the classic “we’ve met the enemy, and he is us” scenario:
• The Place: Though we were in the same room for day two, there were a number of subtle differences. There was enough space in the room, and we were using round tables to facilitate breakout discussions. But that led to some of the more vocal and playful people facing away from the other tables. This limited their participation and leadership in the larger group.
• The Program: After seeing the value of a discussion on day one, I made a tweak in the program to incorporate the topic. However, this lacked context with the new audience and created a disconnect. Ultimately, that led to some confusion (because I inserted it prematurely) and compromised participation during the most important activity of the day.
• The Process: The speed with which the first audience had grasped the core concepts led me to speed things up a bit on day two. Big mistake. It actually had the opposite impact from what I envisioned. Going deeper in a single exercise worked on day one, and I should have left that alone.
When I completed my 3-Step Program Debrief, the path for day three became clear. So I made a few tweaks and realigned the program flow, then entered the room and made sure we had the participants who we knew would engage the most in the right seats.
The result was that day three was better than day one in many ways, the most important of which was accomplishing the target outcome because the distractions that had been allowed in on day two were removed. Also, the lessons learned on day one incorporated to create a better impact.
To be candid, I don’t really think the group noticed the things I’ve noted above, and the feedback at the end of day two was positive. But I didn’t feel it went as well and knew a debrief was need to ensure that day three was on track.
If you’ve read this and think it only matters for multi-day programs then you’ve missed the point.
This 3-Step Program Debrief works for any situation where you speak or facilitate a program, and is something I recommend doing every time you engage with an audience.
The real lesson is that there is much more that goes into creating a great speech or program than just mapping the content.
The design of the outcome and the space that will support its achievement, the creation of the path you will lead the audience along, and the way you start and end with a clear call to action all impact the success of the program in significant ways.
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