Connecting with workshop participants

Connecting with workshop participants – sometimes hard to do; and simple to address

Connecting with workshop participants is not always easy.Connecting with workshop participants

It requires effort and sometimes a perceived degree of discomfort.

In this article I use an everyday example that you’ll probably identify with…

And that you can adapt in your efforts in connecting with workshop participants, as well as building relationships with clients and stakeholders.

The backstory

You may not know that my wife, Georgie, owns and operates a local café and catering business here in Perth. For a long time I did a shift on a Sunday where I was on the till, taking people’s orders and making sure they’re happy.

We’ve been in the café for almost 18 years now. Over this time we’ve formed some pretty good relationships with our clients – good food and coffee alone just won’t cut it.

The dinner party scenario – so what is it you do?

Recently we got an invite to dinner from Becky, who’s been a long-time regular and lives around the corner from us. Sometimes we’re hesitant to do this. After a long Sunday in the café in the middle of a hot, dry Perth summer we prefer a swim followed by a cold beer and a nice glass of wine with dinner!

Still, we like Becky and figured that she wouldn’t be taking this lightly, so off we went, looking forward to good food and a relaxed evening.

However for me there’s always an edge in this situation, as people want to know what is it that I actually do. You know, questions like, “I don’t see you at the shop that much these days…what have you been up to?” Or “Have you retired?”

Then I have to try and explain just what the hell it is that I do to someone that I’m assuming has less clue about it than me. “Hmmm – a facilitator you say – have you been watching the tennis?” can be the reply… (My brother thought for years that I was a facilities manager – true!)

It’s easy being the guy behind the till. Easy to explain the role and most people are comfortable with that. If they ask how I got into the industry I just tell them that it’s part of my community-based order to reintegrate me back into mainstream society. Normally there are no more questions after that.

Time for a change

On Sunday I thought it was time to be responsible. Time to try a different approach.  I made an effort to reveal a bit more about myself, its good manners after all. Chatting out in the backyard, Becky’s mum, Kay, asked what I did outside of the café (she rarely saw me there…)

“Well I work with groups to help them make decisions that help them to function better. For example, on Friday I worked with a team that’s trying get more visitors to spend more money in Fremantle. My role was to design the meeting and keep it moving so they could identify the strategies they need to use to do this. Some people call it a facilitator’s role.”

“Really? I was a facilitator and trainer in the Northern Territory for nearly 20 years – I loved it!”

The conversation rocked from there on. I got to hear some fantastic stories about Kay’s experiences as a facilitator which included providing advice to government ministers through to working with remote communities helping them to develop local health plans. It was a great evening – enhanced by the beautiful food and wine of course!

Benefits of self-disclosure

The dinner reminded me of the importance of disclosure and being okay with being myself and what I do. Whilst it helps in social situations, this is really important in business and professional relationships.

If you want help in connecting with workshop participants look inwards first and think of something simple to discuss that they can relate to. Then keep building on that.

Of course, if you need a hand with anything relating to facilitation and stakeholder engagement, get in touch.

Andrew Huffer

Andrew Huffer has over 25 years experience in working with organisations, businesses, managers and communities and at a state, national and international level. He designs and delivers specialist engagement processes, with a focus on facilitating open decision making processes and skill development of clients. He has delivered presentations and workshops at a number of state, national and international conferences.

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