Engaging African Talent

applauseI just flew back from Nairobi, where I had the pleasure to facilitate a group of 125 leaders from across 20 different African countries. This was the first step of their journey to become apart of an organization that is driven by purpose and strong values. It was a tremendous success, and although participants had low expectations, we had everybody dancing by the end of the conference. It was an amazing and gratifying experience.

Engaging African talent is the same as engaging Asian talent. It is all about how you create and maintain energy flows, how you touch on the design and flow of the conference to come to a desired outcome and how you make people part of the process. Most importantly, it is about how you guide them to follow the philosophy that the answer for any problem is (for 99 out of 100 situations) already present within the knowledge of the group as a whole.

My secret recipe for success in facilitating large-scale conferences is:

Every good cook knows that the success of a well-cooked dish is in the recipe. It is essential to think through which tools to use, in which order to deploy them and to ensure that you have got the venue and logistics set up to support your program. For me, if I get the flow right, everything else will go by itself.

Start the conference with an exercise that requires people to get off their feet and meet as many other people as possible. Do something that requires them to get to know others, that gets them interacting. The energy that this creates is tremendous and will keep the conference flowing for a couple of hours.

The worst thing you can do is to organize a conference where people just have to sit and watch a dry and lengthy PowerPoint presentation. If presentations are needed, keep the slides to an absolute minimum, let the presenters share stories and talk from the heart, involve and engage in issues that are important to the audience and ask the participants to answer their own questions. Ensure you cross-fertilize and people can build on each other views to create alignment.

Have you ever been to these conferences where on the fifth and final day “that guy” is still sitting on the same table in the same chair. It’s as if he has not moved once. He has only viewed the world from that perspective and limited his interaction and learning to the few people on the same table. Don’t let people get comfortable, keep them on their feet and mobile. Let them move to a different table / chair / position after a couple of exercises. It gets people to mingle, share different experiences, learn from others and it creates energy.

No matter how well prepared you are, there will always be moments and/or topics that the group wants to spend more time on. Let them! Don’t worry about your own agenda and whether you are able to finish the topics that you thought were important. They are not. What the group wants to talk about is important. At some point you can make an intervention and ask the group whether they want to continue talking about it or whether they want to move onto the agenda that they had agreed before. Let them focus on what issues they feel most passionate about. Stay flexible, stay in the energy, and as facilitator, adjust where necessary.

Most of the time participants will remember the beginning or the end, so make sure you make it an end to remember. It can be an emotional and powerful story, it can be an activity that brings all the discussion together or it can be something physical. This week, the groups and I ended with a combination of the two; a real powerful story that laid bare the authenticity, vision, aspiration and commitment of the leader to the team he is leading and a chant / dance that we had been practicing over the last two days. I promise you that the participants shared the power of that story and dance with their families that evening.

– Paul Keijzer

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