Ahh Networking, it’s a staple ingredient in the recipe that is boot camp life. However, when I tapped the “Accept” button on meetup.com for an event called Monthly Meetup — Facilitation Masters by Austin Design Sprint, I had no idea what was in store for me.
The description of this particular meetup paid homage to Toastmasters, which promotes communication and public speaking skills, but gear that methodology towards facilitators and boom Facilitation Masters is born.
This months theme would be Icebreakers.
Now I am the most extroverted introvert you will ever meet, so I love Icebreakers, as they allow people to get creatively introduced to a group. However, some people squirm at the thought of them and are not so willingly ready to open up to a room full of strangers. With optimism, I gather my idea for an Icebreaker and head out to the event.
I arrive with two other cohorts from my class, to the 16th floor of the Capital Factory. Shortly after I am seated, we are greeted by an unknown man with a clipboard and sharpie, with given orders to write our name and the length of time that our Icebreakers would need to be carried out.
I mistakenly write 5 minutes because that’s how long I would need for people to finish the first part. I also assume that even though I write my name down, I will not be chosen to speak to the group. Later I will find out I am wrong… VERY WRONG on both accounts.
Moments later, another man who was posted up in the back of the room, emerges confidently to the front of the room. He’s dressed casually, all in black, saying nothing at first and merely raises his hand.
A few seconds later, he states, “Raise your hand if you can hear me.” We all stop our collective conversations and raise our hands.
This man is Douglas Ferguson; he is president of Voltage Control, an Austin-based workshop agency that specializes in Design Sprints and innovation workshops.
I am stunned by the effectiveness of this simple request, with its ability to quiet an entire room. It’s at this moment that I connect with my student self, a young Padawan ready to learn much from this facilitation master.
After a short introduction, we are thrown into the throes of the event. The gentleman, who passed out the clipboard is the first to go. We’ll call him Aaron.
Aaron gives himself four minutes on the clock and requests the group to interview the person next to them for thirty seconds, then switch and repeat the process. After the minute is up, he calls on individual pairs to share one interesting fact they learned about their partner.
As we explain, Aaron draws on a piece of paper his interpretation of this person as described by the interviewer. The sketches are meant as a symbol to create a helpful visual reminder of the person and their story. During his presentation, the alarm goes off, and he proceeds to wrap up his speech quickly.
Now it’s Glows and Grow time, or in this instance, it’s called the rose, the thorn, and the bud.
Aaron is asked to review his experience performing the Icebreaker. Then our Host gives him additional feedback, followed by the room, giving him either positive or negative critique or both. Aaron stands as evaluation, questioning, and praise is given and sits down shortly after satisfied by his assessment.
My name is called next…. OH FOR REAL?
Yep! It’s happening, this is happening, and I stand up from my chair, marching to the front of the room. I take a deep breath in, and with my exhale, I proceed to word vomit my instructions, hoping no one catches a glimpse of the confidence I am faking so hard right now.
My Icebreaker was a riff on the one we had on day one of boot camp. I asked the room to draw their most embarrassing moment on a piece of paper and give it a big-screen title, with a catchy slogan. I gave them the go-ahead and allowed them 5 minutes to recreate this magical moment.
“ In essence, we are humans, and we want to fit in.”
The theory behind my Icebreaker came from wanting to remove the stigma of embarrassment and fear of rejection. Most people don’t like public speaking because they are afraid of saying something “dumb” or messing up in front of an audience where they want to the recognition as smart or competent. In essence, we are humans, and we want to fit in. Assuming everyone is willing to share their most humiliating moment with the group, then a fumble with words or lost train of thought mid-sentence would seem like a grain of sand in the scheme of things. Not to mention, this creates a shared bond as a group. Lastly, I think it’s an enjoyable way to get to know people, seeing how vulnerable they allow themselves to be, and it allows for great talking points post activity.
I set the timer for 5 minutes and tell everyone, ready, set, go! One minute before my timer goes off, I remind everyone to start to wrap it and put on their finishing touches. Once the timer goes, I realized my first mistake, I’m supposed to be done with my entire presentation, and here I am just collecting the results…. now who’s embarrassed?
With drawings in hand, I mix up the pile and pass them out to the group making sure not to hand the papers back to their original owner. Then I ask my cohort to read out loud the concept she was holding in-hand while the owner stood up, to allow the room to build a connection between the story and the person.
I will spare you the gritty details of every narrative, but I was thoroughly pleased with the outcome.
People shared moments ranging from wearing their shirt inside-out on their first workday, to having to run outside naked at midnight to put the flame out on their pillow that caught fire from their candle…Ahh, I can see the feathers flying right now.
Roughly ten minutes later, after all the moments were shared, it dawned on me, it’s my turn to go through the gauntlet of critique. Am I ready? Will I be brave? Does it hurt?
After I assessed myself, by explaining my theory, I peered over at Doug. With a slight head nod in his direction, I was giving him the approval to bring on the firing squad.
He began by delivering me my rose, letting me know specifically what I did well, such as speaking to people directly to build that muscle memory of their name and his overall impression of my delivery.
Then it was time, or more like time stopped, as I braced myself for my thorn.
“You went over your time, by a lot.”
He proceeded to explain why this mattered, the effects of prolonging an allotted segment, and what it does to the rest of your facilitation experience/presentation.
Doug’s directness and pragmatic delivery of his statements made the difference from being sliced by his words to painlessly pricked with enlightenment.
The group added valuable insight as well, stating ways I could have saved time by allowing members of the event to pass, collect, and mix the paper for me. Someone even suggested that this would not be an excellent Icebreaker for all audiences. As a design student, this never occurred to me that some participants would be intimidated to draw!
I learned a lot about myself from participating in this event, and I was even able to relate it to my UX schooling.
Had I just gone through usability testing for my Icebreaker “prototype”?
Would I make iterations based on participant feedback to make the experience better for everyone next time?
Do you understand YOU ARE NOT YOUR USER?
Whether you are an experienced facilitator or merely starting your journey, such as myself, don’t miss out on attending a Facilitation Master meet up and have the ability to create or expand upon your skills in a safe environment of peers.
Additionally, if you love technology, product strategy, and design thinking. I highly recommend you pre-order Beyond the Prototype A roadmap for navigating the fuzzy area a between ideas and outcomes are written by Douglas Ferguson.
It’s based on his experiences running Design Sprints for top companies, to offer practical advice for people shifting from discovery to realization, It’s Available September 12th, 2019
If you feel inclined, please share your embarrassing moment with me via twitter @BrittanyCrockUX or leave a comment below to start a discussion. Lastly, I’ll leave you a version of my Icebreaker drawing so that you can be inspired and feel apart of the experience.
Thanks for reading this far!