“If I don’t practice for a day, I know it. If I don’t practice for two days, the critics know…”
– Louis Armstrong
Let’s face it: most of us are horribly out of practice with in-person events. And now, not only are you being asked to facilitate an in-person event, you’re being asked to facilitate an event for 50 people!
Facilitating large in-person events can be extremely challenging — so challenging that there are training and certification programs that teach you how to do it.
Although specialized training is never a bad idea (I am a Scrum trainer after all), there are some relatively simple tips you can follow to pull off an amazing event.
Five Tips for Facilitating Large In-person Events
1. Where’s My Seat?
While there can be great benefits to assigned seating, the practice can also cause confusion as people try to find the one seat in the room with their name on it. If you are going with assigned seating, here are two tips to implement the plan smoothly:
- Provide name tags with seating on a central table. Have everyone’s name tag on a table by the entrance. Place them in alphabetical order and include the person’s table number on their name tag. This usually works as self-service, so you will save time for facilitation duties.
- Print an alphabetical list of names. Print out several copies of a list in alphabetical order, with table assign-ments, and post them up around the room. While Rajesh knows they are at table 4 — it’s on their name tag — another attendee, Bob, can easily find Rajesh to say hello.
2. Who are you?
Professional conference organizers learned long ago that name badges need to hang from a lanyard with two connection points (e.g., hooks or clips). Otherwise the badge is always spinning around, leading to the inevitable “Your badge is backwards, what’s your name?”
If fancy two-point name badges aren’t an option, the next best option is the single-point lanyard. You can deal with the spinning problem by printing the attendee’s name on both sides.
3. What are we doing next?
This has to be one of my biggest pet peeves with any event. The day starts and the facilitator flashes up a slide with the entire day’s agenda. You’ve got just enough time to register what happens after “Meeting Kick-off” and they are on to the next slide. You spend the rest of the day wondering what’s coming next.
- Agenda posters: Print or write out poster-size versions of the agenda and place them around the room. Everyone should be able to easily see an agenda without turning more than 90 degrees.
- Put it in the handout: If there is a handout of any kind, put the agenda at the front of it.
4. How much time do we have?
Having visible agendas only solve part of your challenge. Keeping track of time in a way that’s visible to everyone can also help facilitate a better event.
- Wall clocks around the room: I just finished facilitating an event on the Stanford Campus for a private group. The room was awesome. Not only did the three large screens default to a time display, there were three good old-fashioned analog clocks on the walls.
- You don’t need good facilities to have clocks. Buy cheap wall clocks and rolls of blue painters tape. A $10 plastic wall clock will stay on pretty much any wall with the right application of blue tape.
- Visible Timers: If you are doing timed events, having an agenda and wall clock will help a lot. Kick this up a notch with countdown timers. These can be on-screen, like the timer in Miro, or analog models. I have a large analog count-down timer that you can see remaining time from across the room.
5. Everyone’s arriving and we’re still not ready!
One of the most common problems I see with in-person events is not realizing just how much time it can take to set up the room.
- Go see the room in person: Photos and layout plans are not enough. You want to see the room in person whenever possible. Even having someone do a video walkthrough of the room is better than nothing.
- Get into the room the night before: Even if you’ve seen the room in person, try to get into the room the night before. Do your setup then and you won’t be rushing around the morning of and dodging early arrival attendees.
- Pre-print posters:. Try to get everything (agendas, instructions, other visuals) printed in advance.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
Facilitation is an essential skill in any Agile environment. However, facilitating one or two teams in a collaborative roadmapping exercise requires a different skill set compared to organizing 50 decision makers to make strategic portfolio decisions.
So don’t be afraid to ask for help from an expert – this is what consultants like myself get paid to do.