Tag Archives: effective meetings

Key questions for planning a 5 day scientific symposium


Next week I have a meeting with an organization to kick off planning for a 5 day international scientific symposium for about 200-250 people.    They hired me as they want the agenda to be more participatory, innovative and engaging than a typical scientific symposium which generally means powerpoint presentations all day interspersed with some poster sessions and possibly a couple excursions to the local sites.  We will still include the presentations/posters, etc but I will embed them into a more engaging structure that includes different types of knowledge sharing, networking and general engagement.

The planning meeting will have about 10 people from the organization and is my first opportunity to get all ideas on the table as well as key information that I can take away and use to design the first draft of an agenda.  I have two hours to get the information I need with the people in the room.

Here are the questions I’m planning to ask:

  • What are the 3-5 key objectives of the symposium?  (as specific as possible)
  • What are your desired outcomes for:
    • Participants
    • Field of study
    • Public/community
    • Donors
  • What learning, knowledge products and/or artifacts do you want to document during and after the end of the symposium?
  • What are the big questions that all scientists attending are interested in? What big questions are emerging in the field?
  • Who are potential audiences/groups that you would like the visiting scientists to engage with?
  • Are there other organizations that you could partner with to offer community engagement opportunities?  If so, who?
  • What are potential excursions that could be offered?
  • What capacity exists within your organization to help deliver the conference on the ground?  What additional capacity might be needed?
  • Anything else to consider or take note of in the design and planning process?

Am I missing any key questions to get this started? Do you have any suggestions for how to structure the meeting of 10 people to ensure I get through all the material using all knowledge in the room? I am always happy to use visuals as well….

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


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IMG_0239 - Version 2

This is a spring person – good for illustrating energy, fun and youthfulness!

That is how I felt after doing two graphic facilitation workshops back to back.  It’s been about two weeks but I’m still feeling all the positive vibes that the workshops brought on.  I’m not sure exactly what it is but whenever we (my co-facilitator Nancy) and I bring a group together (often people who don’t know each other), and put markers in their hands – the energy explodes and people seem to be on fire (in a good way).


We worked with over forty people from around B.C., Alberta, and the U.S.A. between the venues of Rossland (aka Rosviz) and Vancouver (UBC viz).

At UBCviz, we were asked how does the planning process work, so we drew it out at the workshop.  Unfortunately the image is a little blurry (possibly a metaphor for our planning process?).

M&N process

In a nutshell, we put our brains together, use online platforms to help us communicate face-to-face and with our notes, take the information back to our offices and process it individually and then come together again (and again and again) until we come up with a flow that works.  In the moment, we check in, adapt and usually improvise!

So, once the planning is done, what actually happens?  Well, thanks to Joseph Topo from UBCviz I can offer you this visual summary he created after the workshop.

day1_AM day1_pm day2_am

That covers the first 1.5 days.  The last half of day two isn’t drawn yet so in the meantime, a quick summary is that we spend most of the afternoon doing collective visual harvests of what we learned.  These are artefacts that help document what people remember from the workshop and want to recall in the future.  In small groups, people rotate between three harvest stations (the type of stations change year to year).  This year we had  “create a book”, “large visual harvest wall”, and “create a template” stations.  We finish with a visual evaluation.

Here are some photos of the harvest walls (1 from Rosviz and 2 from UBCviz):

Harvest Wall Rosviz Harvest Wall Van Harvest Wall Van2

And some additional photos that capture the essence of the workshops:

Getting started with visual introductions.

Getting started with visual introductions.

Warming up with circles and lines.

Warming up with circles and lines.

We had lovely windows and views of the trees at UBC viz

We had lovely windows and views of the trees at UBC viz

Day 1 visual agenda by Nancy White.  Day 2 agenda pic is MIA :-(

Day 1 visual agenda by Nancy White. Day 2 agenda pic is MIA 😦

Process facilitator Amanda Fenton visually planning a future meeting.

Process facilitator Amanda Fenton visually planning a future meeting.

Eating out in Rossland - The Alpine Grind!

Eating out in Rossland – The Alpine Grind!

Assisting a facilitation challenge using the Samoan Circle.

Assisting a facilitation challenge using the Samoan Circle.

We added portable walls in Vancouver to make space for more drawing!

We added portable walls in Vancouver to make space for more drawing!

Nancy debriefing the circle.  I love that we have no tables and no people hiding behind laptops!

Nancy debriefing the circle. I love that we have no tables and no people hiding behind laptops!



My 10 month old baby made a guest appearance.

The two guys in my life making a guest appearance.

For the full set of photos you can search rosviz on Flickr or follow this link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/rosviz/

So, two weeks later, how am I feeling?  Inspired!

These workshops were the first face-to-face  meetings I had since giving birth to my son 10 months ago.  I was a little nervous going in however the people were kind, my co-facilitator was generous and my husband took great care of Ira which provided me the freedom to do what I love.

Thank you to those who participated and I invite anyone who hasn’t experienced this workshop yet to join us in 2014.  Date and location are not fixed, so drop a line and let me know what you would like to see!


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Graphic Facilitation Workshop September 23-24, 2013 – Registration Open!

Warming up at Graphic Facilitation workshop.

Warming up at Graphic Facilitation workshop.

I am pleased to announce that there will be a Graphic Facilitation Workshop in Rossland, B.C., Canada September 23-24th, 2013!  Otherwise known as #Rosviz, this will be our fourth offering in this beautiful mountain location.  If you are looking to improve your communication and engagement skills using a mix of text and visuals, this workshop is for you.

When might we use this practice?

Sometimes our imaginations are sparked by a visual where words fail us. Think about when communities plan and imagine their futures, when teams consider the possible outcomes for their projects, when groups create maps to track their progress.  Whether you are strategic planning, enhancing reports or explaining concepts on the back of the napkin, these are all opportunities to use visuals to engage and deepen understanding. You can use visual thinking to improve teamwork, communications, meetings, build engagement and to plan and evaluate work. Step out of the PowerPoint rut!

Who should attend?

Facilitators, project managers, team leaders and members, town planners, teachers and anyone who would like to engage others beyond words. 

Please note:You do NOT need previous experience or have to consider yourself an artist. At some level, we can all draw and use visuals to enhance our communications and engage diverse audiences.

“I am still on cloud 9 after the Graphic Facilitation workshop. Thank you soooo much. I feel recharged after that! You two are such great facilitators.  You were willing to bend over backwards to ensure we were comfortable and enjoying ourselves/ learning to our full potential.  There wasn’t a moment that I was not completely engaged during the workshop.”

 Maddy Koch
Community Planning Assistant (2012 workshop participant)

To get a glimpse of what you could be doing Sept 23-24th, check out the harvest from last years workshop: http://michellelaurie.com/2012/07/28/reflections-on-3-days-of-graphic-facilitation-in-rossland-b-c-rosviz/

Details at a glance:

Location: Rossland, BC, Canada (1 hr flight from Vancouver or Calgary, 2.5 hrs drive north of Spokane, Washington)

Dates and Time: September 23-24, 2013 (9am-5pm) (*note we condensed the 2.5 day workshop from previous years to fit into 2 days to accommodate peoples’ busy schedules)

Price: $850 + GST (Registering before July 1st?  You get the early bird rate: $700+GST)

More info?  Email: Michelle Laurie (michelle.k.laurie(@)gmail.com)

More details found at: http://michellelaurie.com/graphic-facilitation-workshops-2013/

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Reflections on 3 days of graphic facilitation in Rossland, B.C, #rosviz

Rosviz, our annual graphic facilitation workshop in Rossland, B.C. finished July 20th however I am still buzzing as the ‘harvests’ of the 3 day ‘drawing on walls’ adventure keep rolling in!

As one of the activities on the last day, Nancy White (co-conspirator) and I invited groups to create harvests of their own using video, a graphic recording mural and a mystery station!  Here are a few of the creative artefacts that emerged!

Group 1’s Video Harvest:

Group 2’s Video Harvest:

Group 3’s Video Harvest:


Harvest Journal (saved onto Dropbox!)


Our Participatory Graphic Recording Harvest Wall


Hosting a 3 day workshop is energizing, exhausting and filled with learning.  What did I take home this year?  In no particular order, here are a few of my gems:

–        People are amazingly creative when given space, tools and opportunities

–        Learn a dozen icons to have in the back pocket – it’s worth the practice!

–        Facilitating with a partner can be a fantastic experience.  It provides time to re-juvenate between sessions, gives participants a blending of styles and has the benefit of bouncing ideas off someone which leads to a better product.  Thank you Nancy!

–        Prepare, prepare, prepare and then… embrace improv.

–        Trust the universe and trust what you bring and offer.


***You can see all the photos from our 3-day workshop on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/rosviz12/ 

Thank you to all the amazing folks that participated in graphic facilitation workshops  in 2010, 2011, and 2012 for sharing your enthusiasm for the practice and inspiring me to push my limits with incorporating visuals into my work.  Yahoo!

P.s. Planning for 2013 has not yet begun but if you want the workshop in your town, contact me as we are open to ideas!


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The #OCE2012 Harvest

How do we document, share and foster ongoing learning?  This is an important question to ask when designing workshops and events.

A few weeks ago I co-designed/facilitated a learning event for BC Campus called “The Online Community Enthusiasts Gathering“.  This is an annual gathering of interesting people mostly from the Lower Mainland/Vancouver Island.  Previous themes have included stewarding online communities and planning events.  This year, the topic was “Facilitating and Designing Stuff”.  I have a lot to write on the process of team design and delivery (thanks to Nancy White, Sylvia Currie, Dave Pollard, John Smith and Alice McGillvary) however recently I came across a harvest that I found absolutely delightful and want to share with you!  This is a great a way to summarize the feeling and activity of the day – for those with video skills…something to consider in your next event.  Here is the video from Heather Kincaid:

Heather also put together a harvest using “storify” which made a story from all of the tweeting during the day: http://storify.com/bccampus/oce-2012

There is also a photo summary via flickr posted on the BC Campus OCE 2012 website: http://urls.bccampus.ca/oce2012

I learned a lot during the day and I am glad it’s continuing with the harvest.  I am inspired already for OCE2013…

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Graphic Facilitation Workshop is Just Around the Corner…

The early bird deadline is past, but we are sending out the word at a couple of face to face workshops in the next few weeks and the time to commit is NOW!  Nancy White and I have learned so many new things this year that we want to share.  There is much to learn from the group as well as so far  the folks who have signed up are fascinating and a few are far flung! We are expecting great, diverse interactions. We have a few more spaces available so MAKE YOUR MOVE!

As a reminder:

When might we use this practice?

Sometimes our imaginations are sparked by a visual where words fail us. Think about when communities plan and imagine their futures, when teams consider the possible outcomes for their projects, when groups create maps to track their progress.  Whether you are strategic planning, enhancing reports or explaining concepts on the back of the napkin, these are all opportunities to use visuals to engage and deepen understanding. You can use visual thinking to improve teamwork, communications, meetings, build engagement and to plan work. Step out of the PowerPoint rut!

Who should attend?

Facilitators, project managers, team leaders and members, town planners, teachers and anyone who would like to engage others beyond words. Please note:You do NOT need previous experience or have to consider yourself an artist. At some level, we can all draw and use visuals to enhance our communications and engage diverse audiences.

Join us July 18-20th in Rossland, B.C.

All details are here: http://michellelaurie.com/training-and-workshops/graphic-facilitation-workshop-july18-20/

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5 days left for early bird special…

Learning the Basics at 2011 Graphic Facilitation Workshop 'Rosviz11'

Are you looking for inspiration?  Want to get creative?  Would you like to learn how to engage the people you work with using visuals?  You can!!!

I am co-hosting a Graphic Facilitation Workshop in Rossland, BC, July 18-20th with Nancy White.  Our offer to you is to learn, get inspired and join a community of people who are finding practical and useful ways to bring visuals into their work.

If you want to see what happened last year, check out this great video by Sylvia Currie from BC Campus: http://blip.tv/bccampus/rosvizcollage-5410970

All details about the workshop are found here!

If you have questions contact me.  The early bird special is on until April 28th…hope to see you in Rossland this summer to draw on walls 🙂

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A quick harvest from Art of Hosting Water Dialogues


I recently experienced 2.5 days doing of joint training with The Art of Hosting and Waterlution called the Water Dialogues. The training was a combination of learning and experiencing. What do I mean? There were a few sessions dedicated to explaining the underpinnings of the philosophies however most of our time was spent experiencing the art and reflecting as a group and on our own.  Most people really appreciated this.


Chris Corrigan , one of the hosts, introduced the Cynefin framework (used by Cognitive Edge) as a way to differentiate between simple, complicated and complex problems.  It’s important to understand what you are working with in order to choose the best methods to address each challenge, project or process one enters.  I have taken the cognitive edge training (2007) and appreciated the way it was introduced as a sense-making framework.  One thing to add to Chris’ very good explanation is that this framework can also help ensure the appropriate evaluation method is used.  For example, complex projects work with well with developmental evaluation approaches as opposed to traditional log frames.


The four fold practice was introduced as a way to check in with yourself and see where you are at.  It was noted that it’s important to work on all areas to embrace a well rounded practice (key word is practice).  The Chaordic Stepping Stones are another way to approach work, ensuring you have a solid based to work from – pay attention to need and purpose first moving to structure only when the first few stones are really in place!  This could be a challenge with clients as they are always jumping to what it might look like in action (the process/engagement) however reinforcing the need and purpose are good first steps to designing an appropriate purpose.

I also took home the message that Intent is very important in all that we do, i.e. consider what your doing, why your doing it, for whom, etc.  This seems obvious but taking time to reflect on the process and actions isn’t always a part of our work rituals …and it should be.

The weekend brought together a mix of professionals working in the world of water and passionate about contributing to positive change. The opportunity to listen to the diversity of interests and projects was interesting for me as I tend to get wrapped up in my own world of work and interests. There was sufficient time to meet and check in with the participants and hosts which was probably one of the most important aspects.


I went to a couple open space sessions on harvesting.  One about the relevance of harvests and the other about sustaining the harvest over space and time.  The latter evolved into a discussion about engaging and communicating over space and time which I view as different than a harvest per se however there is room for debate in a lot of these concepts.  I did come away with an idea and free tool for a project I’m working on this spring and I am thankful for the small gem.  Generally speaking, thinking about what you want to get out of the meeting in advance, in terms of both learning, artifacts to share and any reporting required, should be done at the outset of your process.  This is another good reminder that planning takes time and is involved (so embed that into your work plan, timelines and budget).

In summary, I was fascinated by the rawness people brought forth, sometimes depressing but towards the end, a renewed energy and sense of joy emerged. I feel hopeful by this change in energy, not to mention inspired by the excitement some folks shared after a great conversation, an evening of live music or a moment watching dolphins enter the bay.

Personally I used this time to practice on my iPad (a small goal I rarely find time to work on) and that was quite fun!  I also enjoyed the opportunity to simply be present and practice the art.

Thanks to everyone who partook on Bowen Island – I hope we have the opportunity to meet again and share some conversation.

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Participatory Facilitation Techniques

A few weeks ago I facilitated a 1.5 day meeting for young leaders on the topic of the Columbia River Treaty (CRT).  The CRT is an international agreement between Canada and the United States which governs how water is managed in our region (You can learn more at http://www.cbt.org/crt).   The ultimate goal was that young residents in the region are knowledgeable about the CRT and comfortable talking about it as a formal consultation process begins in late spring with the Province of British Columbia.  Thirty participants ranging in age from 18 to 38 years old learned complicated subject matter in a short time frame.

Screen shot of the twitter stream at the Young Leaders Conference

My strategy in designing the conference was to use a range of participatory and visual techniques to engage the leaders in thoughtful discussions and encourage participant conversations.  One of the participants asked for an overview of the techniques so here are some examples as well as explanations as to why I chose them:

Scavenger Hunt

  • Games are a great way to engage people in dense material, particularly when you have players, levels, points and prizes.  Playing in teams acts as an ice breaker for participants helping them get to know each other over shared tasks.  Providing fun from the get-go sets the tone for the rest of the meeting.   This was an idea of the client and worked well.

Concurrent Thematic Discussions

  • Not everyone comes to the meeting with the same interests or levels of knowledge.  Having concurrent sessions where participants can choose to attend one or more topics allows people to focus on their personal areas of interest and ultimately keep them engaged.


  • Metaphors are another way to think about, or talk about, subject areas.  By imagining a complicated or technical topic such as an international water treaty as something more familiar such as a garden or a computer, people find new ways to understand the subject matter.  We had a lot of fun with this activity as small groups not only described the topic as a metaphor, but also drew it on large pieces of paper.

Participants drawing their metaphor

  • Each group presented their version of the Treaty using metaphors such as a garden, the Commodore 64 computer, a river and a ski hill (with green, blue and black runs representing the challenges ahead).  We debriefed the exercise by looking at similarities, differences and opportunities that were brought forward.

Samoan Circle

Graphic Recording of Samoan Circle discussion by Lisa Theissen

  • After a plenary presentation on how dams and reservoirs work in the context of the CRT, we held a Samoan Circle.  This was a great way to break free from the traditional Q&A format.  I believe the new format kept people interested and also presented a new way of listening and digesting the information for everyone.
  • The technique consists of a large outer circle where everyone sits and a few chairs in the center for people who want to discuss issues. This is the traditional way Samoan elders discuss issues of importance to their community.  It’s an opportunity to learn more from each other and everyone is invited to participate.  The working principles of the Samoan circle are:
    • Outside circle: may not talk
    • Inner circle: can talk until prompted by a tap on the shoulder to retire
    • You must enter the inner circle before you talk
    • You can enter the inner circle at any time if you want to participate in the discussion
    • You can enter the inner circle if you want to stop somebody from talking
    • You must finish your point and leave the inner circle when prompted
    • We had a couple volunteers get the conversation started and people jumped in over time to ask questions, share thoughts and a range of opinions.  During the discussion, we graphically recorded the discussion on the adjacent wall.  The circle was very successful with lots of people joining the inner circle.  We had to cut it off due to time.

Building Scenarios

The building blocks for future scenarios

  • It’s interesting to understand a topic from different perspectives.  Furthermore, by putting oneself into the character of another, it’s possible to dig deeper into the mindsets of different stakeholders and go beyond your own personal view points.  In addition, by comparing scenarios from different stakeholders, one can really start to see the areas of overlap and divergence.  I chose scenario building to help us go from the status quo scenario to a range of possibilities including those that may not be talked about in mainstream circles.  The purpose was to think outside the box and understand different perspectives.
  • In order to ensure the scenarios started from a common framework, we worked in small groups to brainstorm the foundation of the scenario.  I asked participants to consider the current context:
    • Driving Forces
    • Pre-determined Factors
    • What’s Missing
    • Critical Uncertainties
    • In plenary we took ideas from each small group until we had exhausted the information.  Everything was graphically recorded on a large format wall template.
    • Once the building blocks were in place, four personas were identified representing different view points (i.e.Canada,USA, First Nations and Local Residents).  The groups had to come up with a potential storyline as well as a recommendation for the future.  Groups were asked to consider the implications of their storyline and information needs and present back to the plenary.

Conversation Café with Introductory Panel

Conversation Cafe in Action

  • The purpose of the session was to explain some key concepts around education and engagement and then generate new ideas to engage young people.  A conversation café is a great way to dig deeper into a topic that has many layers.  We started with a short panel which introduced the current situation.  There were three speakers and each had 5 minutes to talk.  We then had two rounds of 20 minute conversations.  After the first conversation, one person stayed at the table as the host and the other people moved to new tables.  The host shared the past conversation highlights with the new people.  By moving people around, ideas are cross-fertilized and opportunities to build on each others’ ideas increases.  At the end, tables had 5 minutes to link ideas from the two rounds looking for themes and patterns.  They then shared their top two ideas in plenary.

Graphic Recording of Conversation Cafe by Lisa Theissen

Open Space

  • Our final session used open space which is an opportunity for participants to create their own agenda.  A question was posed to act as the overarching theme for the session (i.e. What’s next for young leaders in the CRT Process?) and participants who wanted to discuss a certain topic were free to suggest items.  In 15 minutes we created an agenda with 8 topics.  We had four concurrent sessions taking place followed by a second round.
  • By leaving the agenda open, this ensures that participants have a chance to talk about their interests or what they want to learn more about.  There is only one law which is to take responsibility for your learning and contributions.  If you find yourself in a session where neither is taking place, you should move with your two feet to another location.

 Overall, the 1.5 days were highly engaging and inspiring with many good ideas coming forth.  I hope some of these techniques inspire you to add participation, graphics and conversation to your next meeting.  If you have some other fun and interesting techniques to share, please add it to the comments!


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Open Space Technology for Effective Meetings

I am organizing two meetings in the next month that will use Open Space Technology.  For one it was purposeful and for the other it simply emerged as the best method to ensure the meeting meets the needs of participants.


We want to foster creativity, networking and action!

Open Space methods let participants create an agenda that is meaningful for them.  So if you have a theme you are working on, know that bringing a group of people together will help move the issue/challenge ahead, trust open space to help people mobilize themselves.

The principles and law of open space are:

  • Whoever comes are the right people
  • Whenever it starts is the right time
  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened
  • Whenever it’s over, it’s over
  • Law of two feet: If at any time during our time together you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet, go someplace else

I am looking forward to facilitating a process driven by the participants and seeing what emerges.  I will be sure to report back!

A few good online videos that describe open space technology are:

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