Guest article: How the simple act of talking recovered a dead workshop

Guest article: How the simple act of talking recovered a dead workshop

This month’s article is by Osbert Lancaster. Here he shares an invaluable technique for engaging participants in a workshop setting.

‘I’d already sidled out of the previous workshop. If I left this one too, I’d be wasting more of my time and money. So instead of walking out, I decided to step up.

“Unconferences” – where participants offer, and then lead, workshop sessions on topics they choose, are a great concept. But if that person, whatever their other qualities, doesn’t have some basic presentation and facilitation skills…

The speaker talked aimlessly about their chosen topic. Once the participants realised this wasn’t what they’d expected, they became restless and then resigned, checking their phones or staring out of the window.

I’d had enough. “Excuse me James,” I interrupted. Everyone looked up. “I’m not sure we’re all following you. Could we turn this around and ask you some questions about topic X?” A bit brutal, but the best I could come up with. James actually looked a bit relieved.

I turned to the others, “Can I suggest we spend a few moments talking with our neighbour about the things we most want to know about topic X? Does anyone have any objections? It that OK James?”

No one hesitated. The room was soon buzzing. After a short while I invited everyone to tell us all what came up in their paired discussion. A few themes quickly emerged and James was able to share his very real expertise – this time addressing the specific issues the participants wanted to know about.

“Turn and talk” is a really effective and simple activity – not just for workshops, but also for meetings. Used near the start it gets everyone in the room talking, so they are all confident to join in later, preventing a few people dominating discussion. It’s a great way to take the temperature: to hear people’s issues and concerns which can then be addressed or otherwise taken forward. It can also help with difficult decisions as people are more comfortable talking one on one than to the whole group, and more people’s views and ideas are heard.’

Osbert Lancaster is a facilitator of sustainability-related events and a specialist in green behaviour change based in Edinburgh. He believes in the power of conversation. Read his 11 suggestions to make conferences a space for great conversations.

Case study: Graphics and social innovation

Case study: Graphics and social innovation

I’d like to introduce you to Jenni Inglis, MDes, MSc, FRSA. Jenni is Director of VIE (for Life) Ltd. VIE enables social purpose organisations to better involve their stakeholders in design and evaluation of initiatives in order to create more positive change. Jenni attended Secrets of Simple of Graphics back in January 2017.  Read about her experience – her reasons for attending the training, how she’s using graphics in her work now and what she has to say to people who are thinking about learning this skill.


Before Jenni attended Secrets of Simple Graphics in January 2017 she already used some graphics in her work as a facilitator. However she only used graphics she had prepared beforehand. Jenni felt this was limiting what she was doing. She has recently found herself working more and more with groups of people who might not get the most from spoken and written English. She felt that an increased use of graphics would help in these settings. The introduction session in the training helped Jenni to realise that she actually wanted to become more fluent in graphics, so that she could use them more spontaneously and draw graphics live in front of people.


Jenni found the training to be great practice in drawing graphics live in front of people. She thought it very well structured and full of tips and tools to improve the way she uses graphics. It enabled her to explore the use of graphics in different ways that she had not previously thought of (e.g. the difference between graphic recording and graphic facilitation) and to identify stretch targets for herself.


As Jenni says, ‘At the end of the course I had really caught the bug, in a good way!’. Jenni decided that she wanted to use graphics all the time in all her work – in presentations, in templates for individuals and groups, in capturing what people say, and when training – so that she could really become fluent, just like learning any language.  She gets a lot of positive feedback and the individuals and groups she works with are more engaged. To someone who is considering going on the training, Jenni says, ‘Do it! You’ll have a great day and learn a lot about how you can make your work more engaging through graphics.’ See below for a sample of Jenni’s work!              

Keen to catch the bug yourself? Book your place now for Secrets of Simple Graphics April 26th 2019

Good news! 50% funding extended for Scottish businesses

This post was initially emailed to my subscribers on Friday 26th June 2015.

I don’t know about you but since the 1st of April I’ve been checking the Skills Development Scotland website to see if the Flexible Training Opportunities (FTO) training fund was going to be extended for 2015-2016.

And now – at last – I can reveal that it is!

The FTO fund allows employers to reclaim 50% of the cost of training.

However there are some changes to the fund this year, most notably:

  • An increase in the maximum amount payable for one training opportunity to £1000.
  • Introducing a minimum cost threshold for training of £200.
  • Reducing the maximum level of payment a company can receive to £3000.

You can get the full lowdown and make your application online via this link.

If you are interested in using FTO towards the cost of Collected Works services, namely:
– graphic facilitation (strategic visioning etc.)
– training including graphic facilitation training
do let me know and I can assist with the form filling.

It’s good news all round!

Happy Friday,

Graphic facilitation myths busted

Graphic Facilitation is a particular facilitation technique that uses the power of visuals to help groups ‘see what they mean’. Typically a facilitator stands at the top of a room, filling in a pre-drawn template with words and images that represent what a group is expressing.

When it comes to graphic facilitation many myths abound. I’m here to bust the top three!

  1. You have to be good at drawing to be a graphic facilitator.

    This is absolutely not true. When it comes to graphic facilitation the art of facilitation itself is key. There are many people out there who are amazing artists and illustrators but don’t know the first thing about facilitation! With graphic facilitation the importance is on drawing out ideas and getting a message across; this often works best when the images are straightforward and easy to grasp. So you really really (honestly) do not have to be ‘good at drawing’ to be a graphic facilitator. Designing templates and drawing icons all come with practice.

  2. Graphic facilitators always have their back to the wall.

    This is another common myth that is simply untrue. A graphic facilitator pivots, turning both to the group to ask questions and facilitate discussion, and to the wall to capture the key points of what is being said. It takes a little practice, and works very well. It’s a good idea when facilitating to explain to the group at the beginning of the process that you will sometimes have your back to the wall, however you will be keenly listening to what is being said. Getting participants involved in the graphics and checking in regularly that you have accurately captured the discussion are two ways ensure the process works effectively.

    (It’s also possible as a facilitator to team up with a graphic recorder – so one person is doing the facilitating and one person is recording what is being said.)

  3. Graphic Facilitation doesn’t really make a difference

    Au contraire! Over 80% of us are visual learners meaning we absorb information quickly and more easily when it is in a visual format. Graphic facilitation makes meetings more effective, reducing misunderstandings, diffusing tension and increasing participation and ownership of ideas. But don’t just take my word for it. Here’s the feedback Kate and I received when we facilitated a PATH (strategic visioning) session for Update Disability Information Scotland,

    ‘“Many thanks for a really useful planning day and a fantastic graphical depiction of our plans! It’s so much better than a dense list of tasks, scribbled notes or formal minutes and highlights so clearly how much work was done on the day by everyone.The PATH is now up in the office for all to see and be reminded of the tasks and the dream! Claire has also done photos of parts of the plan (first steps, month, actions) and patched them together so everyone has a record of what needs doing over the next few weeks – there’s no escaping ‘the plan’!.”

Want more tips? Join me for Secrets of Simple Graphics open course in Edinburgh on September 5th 2017. Sign up here.

The power of drawing BIG!

I first learnt about graphic facilitation when I did a course on Person Centred Planning back in 2002. The trainers had enormous pieces of paper on the wall and they were really working those markers.

‘Wow’, I thought, ‘That looks…terrifying!’

I loved art as a child and always kept my drawings small and neat. I would only reveal them to my teachers and classmates when they were ‘finished’.

The thought of standing up by a wall and drawing BIG as other people looked on filled me with dread.

Some years later when Kate asked me to co-deliver a course on Person Centred Planning with her I said ‘Absolutely. But there’s no way I’m doing the drawing bit!’

I’m happy to say I overcame my fear of drawing big and now embrace it at every opportunity.

In fact I recently created a ‘studio’ in my flat, where one wall in my living room is covered in enormous paper for the sheer pleasure of drawing big when the mood takes me (i.e. every day).

So what are the benefits of drawing BIG? Why do I love it so much? Here are my top three reasons:

1. It works as a very powerful visioning tool. Have you ever written out your goals on a piece of paper, put the piece of paper in a drawer and never took it out again? When you draw your vision BIG it becomes more real. I see this often with my own visions, and also when I am doing visioning work with coaching clients or groups. It really does feel different when visions are drawn big, and particularly if they are left up on the wall as a constant reminder.

2. Drawing big also helps us to think big. With all that space our mind starts to expand, to find new solutions to problems, to be creative.

3. It’s ‘not allowed’. I don’t know about you but when I was growing up I wasn’t allowed to draw on the walls. Drawing on walls was a ‘bad thing’! It’s perhaps for that reason that drawing (on paper) on the walls feels incredibly liberating.

And did I mention it’s tremendous fun?
Give it a go yourself. Don’t wait until you have the ‘right’ size wall or the ‘right’ paper. A piece of flip chart on the back of a door is a good start.

And if you’re keen to explore the power of drawing big in a fun, safe environment do join me for Secrets of Simple Graphics on September 5th. Book now >>

To your success,