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  • Writer's pictureNeža Krek


guest: my facilitation suitcase

Today, my guest is a suitcase. But not any suitcase. Today, my guest is my facilitation suitcase. Back in 2010 I was given a scholarship to the conference of the International Association of facilitators. By then, I was 26 years old and the youngest one there. I was surrounded by senior consultants, senior facilitators, people from all over the world who work for big firms and big facilitating strategy programs. Just a few years ago someone told me that what I do intuitively, actually has a profession behind it. I had just been studying for years to be a teacher and this made me want to change my career before I even started.

At the conference, I was impressed by the quality of the discussions and the capacity of these people. And I just knew that this was a world I wanted to contribute to. This was my quest in life. This was the start of something, that is my business and biggest passion today. When I got back to Slovenia I was researching how to become a facilitator, but people there had no clue what it was! I joined the association of facilitators in Slovenia, there were maybe 24 members. But hey, 24 members!

Only 2 of those were actually making a living from it. At a certain point, we had an evening gathering of the Association and one of the members decided that she would facilitate a session for us. When she came that evening, she had a big suitcase with her. I was intrigued by what's in that suitcase. When she opened it, stationery heaven opened. Space for markers, bigger posters, paper, a watch. That's when I said to myself: when I become a professional facilitator, I want this as well. I went to the thrift shop and came across this beautiful old suitcase.

Now I will tell you what I carry inside. There are some older, fun postcards that I was collecting for so long. There are so many that it's quite heavy. Masking tape. Tissues for the case that people start crying. Matches. A rattle and a few bells. A lot of markers. Thin, thick and all the colors. Pens, pencils and stuff. Just for writing. I have a few things to count time. I have a digital timer in my suitcase, one that you use for cooking eggs. There is also a watch. And another timer that times down. Plus I also have my wristwatch to silently remind me of things. Usually I bring a vase for flowers. I love flowers and lots of color. A little music box and a charger. Some deodorant and a water bottle. I always carry these gigantic post-its. I especially like how they sound and how they feel when you take them off. I have a ball. I have some files too. There is a collection of really random things, like buttons that are really colorful. Again, a lot of color. There are 2 more items that are really important. A hair band with giraffe ears and a unicorn horn and some fake flowers glued on top of them. The last thing is a piece of wood. It fits in a hand. It was probably the end of a branch and somebody cut it off. There is a pattern on one side and it still smells of resin and pine wood. Now I almost forgot to mention my calculator as well.

So why do I carry all of these weird things around me when I'm working?

I have different categories in my suitcase. Let's go one by one.

The time category

The reason why I have four ways to help me facilitate the time is to make it easier for people to forget about time. I truly believe that my role as a facilitator is to make sure that people that I facilitate, don't need to worry about time. I want them to forget about time. With these tools and the way I facilitate I make sure that at least a majority of the time there is a sense of flow and immersion in the topic. I am responsible to take care of the time and that's why I need different tools. The tools help me to have enough brain space left to really be with the people. I use the calculator sometimes to see how much time I still have left. Sometimes I use it to divide the amount of time that I have or the amount of people I have in certain groups.

The bell category:

Why would you need 5 different devices to make noise with? The answer is simple. Certain situations ask for a certain type of atmosphere. As a facilitator, I am not only taking care of time, but am also creating a certain type of atmosphere. That is about pace and energy. What type of pace do I want to create in a certain activity? What type of energy do I want to provoke? What type of emotional experience do I want to give my participants?

Imagine there is a very high-paced atmosphere, lots of discussion and everything is bubbling. Maybe the bells will cut through all the noise, maybe not. But the energy is much more playful. However, maybe I'm creating a different atmosphere, where a sense of reflection is invited when I am asking people to think about a difficult question. And then asking them to have a conversation with a conversational partner. There are different types of noises and bells, for different types of situations. Bells also bring focus. That's why I use them all the time.

The focus category:

I was facilitating a strategy session, and people were talking, talking, talking, talking, but I could feel that the peak of energy was going down. So it was important to bring focus back, I also noticed the way people were talking. They were not really listening to each other. I use this piece of wood that I mentioned before, which I call a talking piece. I put it in between the middle and asked the people a certain question. That was the question that brought the essence of the conversation back into the centre.

I asked them to take this piece of wood whenever they are speaking and invited the other people to respectfully listen. It's a very tactile and multi dimensional experience. You take the talking piece and you commit to telling a story. You are being brave and showing leadership by exposing your own thoughts. Holding it gives you focus and a feeling that the people around you are listening. There are a million ways you can use a talking piece. When you use it to express your emotions, reflections and thoughts, there is a certain type of feeling of sacredness, attention and acknowledgement in the room.

So I am very happy I found this piece of wood in the woods of Slovenia. It was just under the leaves, if you looked for it you couldn't see it. But it somehow spoke to me. And we have been together ever since.

The creativity sector:

From my point of view, creating a warm, fun and playful environment is extremely important in order to be able to express yourself. The moment people take the adulthood hat off, they are able to dive deeper into their own playfulness. They start to have fun, ideas are flowing around and there is a certain openness that otherwise would not happen. That's why I always have colorful paper without lines, because those lines restrict our creativity. So I also bring lots of colorful pens and pencils.

Another way of bringing out creativity is with my collections of postcards. Before I moved to where I live now, we would go to a bar and I would collect the free marketing postcards that you could find in toilets. At one point my friends started bringing me postcards for my collection. At a certain point, I had to inform my friends that I have enough postcards. I think the most popular postcard is this one of a woman, clearly dissatisfied with her situation. Among a huge pile of dirty dishes, in yellow rubber gloves, doing the dishes with a sign saying: get a real job. I cannot tell you how many times people pick that one up. It's hilarious how many great conversations and how many openings these tools caused.

Same for this hairband. It helps me to communicate, especially when I'm training about facilitation and transformative learning design. It helps me bring the point across that you need to be very clear on which role you are stepping into. Are you being a teacher? Are you a trainer? Are you a coach? Or are you a facilitator? It's a very distinct mindset that you want to have for each one of these. I kind of want to click in my head before I step into a particular role. So what I do is whenever I am in a certain role, I want to make sure that people understand that.

I use these funky giraffe ears to make sure that people visually understand, without using too many words. Otherwise, there's confusion, wines, there's mumbling decisions instead of the real decisions. Otherwise, there's suppressed emotions instead of really healing the situation that needs to be healed. So whatever I can do in order to help bring clarity to these processes, I will take it.

Why the unicorn headband? Because it's fun, and life is too short. The last time that I used it was a week ago when I closed a six-month program of transformative learning I was giving at The Wageningen university here in The Netherlands. I had this hairband on me because it added this celebratory part for the closing session. I asked people to reflect on what they learned from these six months of the transformative learning program.

I got a request from the audience that they would love to hear my own reflection. This particular hairband with the giraffe unicorn ears helped me make that distinction. So I said: ok, now I am taking my ears off and I will share as a participant. Because I am also a participant and a learner myself. When I finished I put the hairpin on again and told that I was stepping back into my facilitation role. It was clear, fun and effective.

What is in your suitcase?

If you are a seasoned facilitator who has been doing this for a long time, and if you have a suitcase, I'm really curious about what is in your suitcase. Look at the things that you carry around and look at them through the filter of what are these objects telling you about your facilitation? What is it that you want to enhance? How is it that you want to have more fun? What type of impact are you making with how you're facilitating because I dare you, I know that you are doing great things. And my question is very much about if you are aware of all the good stuff that you're already bringing?

And if you're more on the beginner's side, I would love you to experiment with this idea. If you had this suitcase, what would you put in it? What would enhance your confidence? What would enhance your courage to experiment to do new things? What would help you be your most fun, relaxed, confident self when you're going to step into your future classroom and have fun delivering this class?

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