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Centaur Stage - Episode 3: The Art of Virtual Facilitation with Dr. Myriam Hadnes

Centaur Stage is a weekly video series where we explore bold ideas about the future of work and learning. Each Thursday afternoon, on LinkedIn Live, at 2:30PM UAE-time, Marilyn, our CEO and founder is joined by some incredible guests to share insights, opinions and perspectives about the future of how we work and learn.


On this episode of Centaur Stage, Marilyn and Dr. Myriam Hadnes discussed the art of virtual facilitation, how to make workshops work and her recent ‘Never Done Before’ Festival.

Watch the full episode here.



About Dr. Myriam Hadnes

Myriam Hadnes is a behavioral economist by training, a podcaster by passion, and a facilitator by profession. She is German by birth, and Amsterdammer by choice. Before starting her solo-business, Myriam had a career in higher education and research which allowed her to work, live and explore in Vietnam, Burkina Faso, and Luxembourg. Today, Myriam is the founder of Workshops.Work. She follows the vision that we can change the world – one workshop at a time – because all it takes to change the world is effective collaboration.


Myriam is also the host of the workshops work podcast where she inspires fellow facilitators to design and deliver workshops that deliver results. As a pragmatic dreamer, a sense-maker, a connector of ideas and of humans, Myriam creates opportunities for others to collaborate. She is an optimist – sailing towards the edges of the status quo to explore what might be waiting for us beyond.


About the Never Done Before Festival

Opening up the session, Marilyn referred to her own roles as a teacher, podcast host, team leader, and moderator. “I know just how important it is to create learning experiences that are engaging and insightful. In my pursuit of learning more about facilitation and to improve the experiences we have with our clients and the workshops we host, I discovered Myriam, her podcast, and the Never Been Done Before Festival. I attended the co-design sessions of the festival and was mind blown coming out of each session. For those who may not have heard about it before, can you share what the Never Done Before Festival was, How you thought about it and how you structured it?”

“In a nutshell, it was basically a festival or a conference to share the best practices of facilitation. I invited my podcast guests to be speakers and ‘Never Done Before’ started as a working title because I realized that every time I went to a conference, about facilitation, I came back with this feeling of ‘been there, done that.’ The guests on my podcast have so much to share and what they share on the recording is just a fraction of what they can do. We as facilitators, tend to deliver the same things and we wanted to make the space to experiment and to play and to try out new things. I thought, what if we gave them a stage to try formats that they've never done before?”

The festival was initially meant to happen in-person in Amsterdam but as a result of the global pandemic, Myriam and her team needed to adapt. “I was part of the Virtual Collaboration Campus in March when the coronavirus had just started to emerge in Europe. It was there that I realized we can do the festival online. Oscar Trimboli convinced me to bring it online and we thought, okay, it's going to be global, it's going to be never done before, it needs to be 24 hours - it needs to be crazy!”

“The co-design process was at the heart of the concept. Our question was, how do we know what people actually want? What is the minimum viable product and how do we know what our audience wants to learn? So we thought of turning it around and instead of offering a line-up in an agenda, we asked the audience what they would like to experience. We invited them to join the co-design process"


"We thought it would be a one-off co-design session to ideate. It was so cool. There was such a positive spirit of just exploration and experimentation that we thought, why stop after one session? Let's continue! It became a co-design process until the festival.”

Marilyn who participated in the co-design sessions found it refreshing to be given a space to contribute to the sessions in this way. “You guys created some really interesting virtual spaces around the festival. I wonder if you could talk about them and how you experienced them and what were some of the things that really surprised you or surprised the attendees?”

Fig. 1 - Never Done Before Mural

“These were the spaces that we had at the festival. The idea was that we want participants to dive into the festival and to explore and make them not want to leave. Because what I realized whenever I joined an online conference, as much as I might enjoy the workshop at that moment and the second it's over, I'm back in my own living room and I'm totally disconnected from what's happening. We thought, what can be the connector? What can be the environment that makes participants want to stick around?”


Myriam continued, “I did this with Shane Smart who is basically the genius behind all of these murals. We thought, okay, we need a physical space that makes participants curious enough to explore and to stay there. On Mural, you see all the small cursors, so you see exactly who is in the space at the time and where they're going and where they're exploring. Since all of our guests were guests on the podcast, they received a ‘studio’ which is a space where they can basically showcase themselves so they're not strangers."


"It was in a co-design session that the idea came up for a space to reflect in between sessions," Myriam added. "Typically after one session, there's another workshop, or we're going back to our daily routines. It was in the design session that someone came up with a learning journal. How would the learning journal then look like? How can we make it entertaining? How can we integrate the learning experience on how to use Mural and how can we also make it applicable to organize the festival, beforehand?”


Sharing her experience with this aspect of the Festival, Marilyn commented “You created this mural (Fig. 1) and each facilitator has this apartment and you can visit their spaces and they put up things including a link to their video or their session. They also put up all the stuff you need to know for the actual session, but to your point, it allowed for this idea of lingering. Of course, it was a 24-hour festival, so I didn't watch every session but when I came back and got to this mural, it's like being inside somebody's home, and being in their space where I had the ability to explore and see what little trinkets they left there and whether there were any Easter eggs to be found and the notes that they took. Even though I don't know these people, I just felt connected to who they are as a human, which was such a strange feeling to be having, sitting at my desk, looking at a screen, a very beautiful one at that.”

“I'm so glad that you're saying that,” said Myriam. “In the co-design session, what came out was that it's actually the connection that counts. The main expectation of such a festival from the participants was connection over content. How can we actually design, or facilitate this human connection amongst the participants and for the facilitators as well? If the studio was able to make this connection, that makes me very happy!”

Experimenting with tools

“During the Never Done Before Conference, we had quite a few different virtual spaces,” said Marilyn. “Mural obviously is a flat space, but we could visit the different studios, there was Teooh, there was also Mibo which has an Island to hang out in and I experienced both of those.


Teooh

"Teooh (see Fig. 2) is a virtual space set up in different ways. The one that I joined was set up like a conference in a ballroom with round tables and a stage, and you have an avatar that can move around. When you're at a table, you get to speak to the other people who are there, but you can't hear everybody else. It's like a breakout room, but it's really interesting because you still have the sense of the other people who are there and you see them reacting and talking. If somebody is up on the stage and they're talking, then everybody can hear them. The idea of my body being aware of other people's bodies in that space was incredible. It mimics that embodied experience of being in a conference. Tell me about that experience and what participants said about it. I'd love to know what were your thoughts? What surprised you?” Marilyn asked.

Fig. 2 - Teooh is an avatar based virtual event platform

“I think what I found interesting is the reaction of seasoned facilitators to a new platform that is totally different from everything that they've experienced so far. In Teooh you don’t have video. The only visual you have is this avatar, which obviously doesn't react how you react. It's an AI that is making it up, but you have different emoticons or emojis that you can share to express your instant feelings or your question as well. From a host perspective, in the beginning, it just felt like herding cats because you don't have the visual clues and you need to find out where you have to locate yourself in order to be heard by everyone and still, you don't want to interrupt the flow. If I move on stage where for sure everyone around the tables will hear me, I have to be very conscious about the fact that they might be in the middle of a different conversation. So if I start speaking, then I unknowingly interrupt them. At the same time when I'm around the table and there's someone on stage who wants to share something as a participant at the table, everyone has to be really silent because otherwise, they're disturbing the person on stage who wants to speak. At the same time, the rules that apply would be valid to the physical world. In this avatar space, it feels as if you need to remind yourself and the participants about these rules."


When sharing how participants felt about this Myriam believed there were mixed feelings. "There were some who just loved it because you don't need to look good. You can be in your pajamas, nobody looks at the environment you're in, you don't have to put on a green screen, and you can even walk around at the same time. Therefore, you can be very focused because there's no distraction. You don't open other tabs, you're immersed in this world. Others felt very disconnected because they actually missed the visual clue of seeing the expressions of the others. It reminded me of the fact that depending on the purpose of why we meet, we have to choose carefully, which tool we are using.”


Mibo (formerly known as Borrel)

Sharing her experience from the session using Mibo (see Fig. 3), Marilyn says, “That brings me to the Island, which was a very different tool. It's a virtual world and again, both of those worlds have very crappy rendering on purpose. They look like a game and an old one at that. In this tool, you also have a body that is like a robot with a TV as a head where our video was displayed. You could see us move like wobbling TV heads around the Island and you can walk through the space, picking up objects such as hats and wear them. The really amazing thing about the purpose of this tool is that when you get closer to somebody, their volume goes up. It mimics that kind of pre-conference vibe, where you're in the room with a lot of people and different people are having different conversations and you can join one and leave it. It's not like you have to sit at the table to hear what people are saying, it's more natural in that sense. It’s also messier and chaotic and a conference room is always chaotic. This tool serves a completely different purpose, talk to me about how you involve people in that space and how you ended up using it in the conference as well.”


Fig. 3 - Mibo is a videochat app made for informal meetings, remote drinks, social mixers, networking events, or just hanging around.

"So we used it to experiment pre-conference, and I first went to this Island. I was just blown away because you can have the embodied experience. Again, in one of the co-design sessions, participants mentioned that they are missing a ‘turn to your neighbor moment’. When I speak to you, I look at you. When I speak to my neighbor, I look in a different direction and everyone knows who I'm talking to. This is impossible in Zoom and on Teooh. But it’s perfectly possible on Mibo because you have this avatar with a video in your head as a screen and can turn your avatar to the side allowing you to focus on the person you want to address."


Myriam continued, "What is also nice is that you can really have this proximity display and play with proximity. In the onboarding on the Island, what I usually like to do is an icebreaker energizer exercise, where I asked participants to pair up and to just play with distance. How does it feel when I come very close? It feels intimidating, so you take your avatar and you go back because it's too close. How does it feel when you turn to someone else to address? How does it feel when you eventually form a circle? It's beautiful to observe that when one more participant joins, suddenly the circle opens to accommodate this extra person. I think it's a more gentle experience because on Zoom, you appear and you’re on the screen and you're there, but you don't have this welcoming routine or ritual where you open up the circle and welcome someone as part of a group."


Embodying Experiences

“I know that you experimented with a lot of different kinds of embodiment. You created these cards that people could print at home and use to express reactions. I know you had a cooking session planned, and of course, all of these different virtual reality-like spaces where you could experience things as if you were experiencing them with your body. I found that to be a theme that I kept obsessing about and coming back to. How do you think that facilitators or a group of people on a zoom call can integrate this embodiment experience? What do you think are the benefits of doing that at the moment?”


“I think it was Mary Alice who had these sticks with analog prompts and it was Jacinta Cubis who I had a podcast interview with about using analog things for the video. My impression is that we are often too concerned with being too serious. Yes, topics are serious, yes we have to have compelling conversations but we are still human. Our brain functions better if we spice it up a little bit and bring some light heartedness and some humanness.


Having something analog to react to makes it more human and more surprising and to experiment with different platforms for me as a facilitator also means two different levels; on the one hand, it's to train the skill of being uncomfortable and experimenting with new tools. If something goes wrong, how do I react? How do I manage to communicate when I don't have video? How do I communicate if not everyone can hear me to the same extent? What are the rules that I have to say? How do I onboard new participants? These tools give you a different perception and a broader view and even more compassion towards participants. It also taught me to be more mindful of choosing the tool according to the purpose of the call.


As you said, the Island is perfect for leisure activities after work. There's also Toasty where you can have all these integrated games and prompting cards, which is fantastic to connect disciplines and to create a safe space. I would not necessarily use it for leadership or board strategy discussions."


Virtual vs. In-person Facilitation

Taking a question from the Audience, Marilyn asks, “What are some of the things that work better in virtual facilitation, and what are those aspects of the in-person experience that you're still trying to recreate virtually? And if there's a difference at all, I know that “virtual” is between brackets and I'd love to get your thoughts on that.”


"From the facilitation perspective, not so much has changed, said Myriam. "I think, meetings that were boring and energy suckers in the physical world, are as boring and as energy-sucking in the virtual world, it just becomes more apparent. I think the virtual world is an amplifier and the opportunity cost of joining a meeting when working from home is higher. Because whether I sit in my office and I walk to the meeting room and I sit in a bad meeting, well, I'm at the office anyway. If the alternative of being in a boring Zoom call is sitting on my couch and having a wonderful conversation with my family or reading a book, that's a different story. So bad online meetings are much more painful because you know what else it could be.


Once a podcast guest said to me "We are always trying to find out how we can translate our physical meetings into the online world. Instead of asking what is there in the online world that we cannot do offline?

For instance, in breakout rooms, you can have small groups, you can turn to your neighbor in a physical workshop, but you will always kind of hear the others in the background. You'll hear them laughing, crying, or having more fun? You're constantly hearing someone else. Also, there’s a fear that not everyone will listen, so you wouldn't speak as openly, in a small group in the physical space as you would during a breakout room. So magical things happen there. I think this is something that is so easy to do and it’s underrated. Also, I think what we can bring to the virtual world is just to increase the pace because we don't want to walk in, we don't need to reach flip charts or fill the space around to clean up. The pace of a workshop can be much faster and easier. We can use prompts, videos, and all these kinds of, multimedia are much easier to use.


One last question

As with all guests, Marilyn asked Myriam to complete the sentence: The future of facilitation is….


"The future of facilitation is that it will become a management skill, just like presentation skills. For me, the future of facilitation is that there's no job opening for a management or leadership position without facilitation listed as one key skill that is required," said Myriam.




Other episodes of Centaur Stage:

Episode 1: Watch Marilyn's debate with Iulia Istrate on corporate culture in distributed settings, or read the key insights here.


Episode 2: Watch or read the key insights from Marilyn's discussion with Ziyad Rahhal exploring what it means to lead in today’s world, how his approach to leadership has evolved, and why empathy is not the same as compassion. The conversation also shed light on LinkedIn’s bold mission, how it's growing its products to create more value for its users and why the term ‘customer-centricity’ has new meaning for sales and marketing professionals.


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