Bring on the pizzazz! Innovative toolbox for a creative facilitation session

Street Art, Paris by El Kenor

Street Art, Paris by El Kenor

You must facilitate a session. Wonderful! You order notebooks, pens and set them on the table for an interactive session. Why not change it up? Dazzle the participants and entice a bit more energy and action from the group.

Getting participants active and allowing for a full flow of creative energy is a facilitators dream. Don’t limit yourself because you are working in a more conservative setting, you will be pleasantly surprised with the outcomes and participants will be thankful for your thoughtful preparation and willingness to address different learning and participatory types. One of the biggest challenges as facilitator is catering to the different ‘types’ of participants – the quiet introvert who doesn’t want to speak in the forum, the boss who has a lot to say and may overpower others, some people express themselves best visually, while others are better talking it through.

For this reason, I outline a few supplies (and activities) you can use to explore your participants preferences and allow for interaction and participation in a way that is comfortable and creative for all. Below are supplies for your creative facilitator’s session toolbox, listed by budget, and ways you could use them in your next facilitation session to change up the usual notetaking supplies, and help support a more participatory and active session.

Budget 1: What money?

Sometimes we must work with what we have in the supply closet. Don’t fret! You can still get creative with your usual office supply cupboard in out of the box ways:

1. Pens (standard colors: blue, black)

Allows not only the usual writing, and note jotting, but doodle space, drawings, charts and diagrams.

2. Pads of paper (preferably no lines)

Allows freestyle use of paper allowing creative juices to flow as well as capture messages, reminders and key points. Also, helps doodlers and visual participants since there is no pressure with the lines.

3. Flip charts/dry erase boards (with appropriate markers)

Facilitator or group leader to capture the ideas that are being discussed in appropriate form – written, images, graphics, charts.

*Interesting book available online on graphic facilitating, Visual Teams: and in-person courses available in San Francisco, CA at The Grove:

4. Tape

For displaying filled flip charts for participants to visually refer to and see the flow of discussion/ideas. Refrain from ‘flipping’ the chart which blocks the flow as past ideas and discussion points are hidden, perhaps forgotten, and may impede flow of discussion.

5.  Sticky notes

Create a sticky wall with an activity that requires a sorting of ideas and thoughts. This allows for mobility and movement while aiming to sort. Alternatively, you can create a message board especially useful for feedback.

*One step further: If needed, make the wall into an elephant shape, especially relevant for controversial, “elephant-in-the-room” topics. You can permit anonymous messages, if needed.

Budget 2: Counting nickels and dimes:

This is for those who can obtain supplies beyond the office supply closet. In addition to the above try:

1. Colored pens/markers/pencils/crayons

Aid creativity with more colors and organize focused-sessions where drawing/graphs/images are recommended, or simply have these available at tables for participants to access during the overall session (see above RE: pens)

2. Assorted shapes/note cards/sticky notes (colored)

For activities similar to sticky notes options in the above, however with different colors and shapes you can group participants, or ideas accordingly.

3. Candy/treats

Awards and incentives! Of note, this also works with conservative audiences, because I’ve tried! Are you surprised? Especially in longer meetings with low energy periods, or the after-lunch lull.

*Note: Depending on the length of the meeting, aim to always include a break for longer sessions. Participants will appreciate some time in fresh air, or with a coffee and fruit.

4. Talking stick or speaker’s staff (or small ball)

The director of an international NGO/ Research organization where I worked had one of these in her office. What was this carefully wooden carved stick doing in her office? It was a talking stick or speaker’s staff, which is used in some cultures for designating the speaker and a special announcement. Be sure to set ground rules and inform the group that they must pass the wand to speak, and only then can one share their thoughts.

*Note: Facilitator will have to be savvy in noting order of who is lined up to speak and for those who would like to react to the talking stick holder otherwise it could be challenging to see who is next and allowing for flow of the discussion.

4. Creative thinking card decks

Depending on the nature of the meeting, or if you need to shift the mood, below I list card decks (available to purchase) that can help change gears and help advance the meeting.

  • Roger von Oech's Creative Whack Pack – also available as an app on the iPhone or iPad. I have a pack and have used this in the past. It is great for when thegroup needs something new to initiate a session. An included insert contains proposed activities for ways in which you can utilize the deck.
  • IDEO Method Cards are for inspiring design and keep people at the center of the design process.

Budget 3: High roller, sky is the limit

Here the sky is the limit, really. However, a few items to add to your supplies that are more of a splurge, while up-ing the energy and mood.

1.  Interactive smart board

I’m traditional and prefer good old paper and pens/markers and activities with a flip chart, but for ease of capturing notes (and to save the trees) smart boards are being utilized more and more instead of flip charts. Although it is an investment, it could allow for ease of mailing notes post-meeting.

2. Room ambiance & technology: Colors, creative images, audio/visual equipment (speakers, mics/wireless, projectors)

This goes a bit beyond ‘supplies’ but if you can afford an investment in a creative meeting space, it would be money well spent and will allow for long-term capabilities for different activities/set-ups.

*Please note, you don’t need a big budget to have a successful session. Also, more technology does not necessarily equate to a better session. Even with the basics you can get creative and stimulate the group.

What’s in your toolbox for creative sessions? Any tips on other activities with the noted supplies? Anything missing that you would add?