How to build trust

In compact business seminars, the kind where the participants expect and get a full script to take home (so much for unplugged!), I usually use cards and a pinboard to collect, sort and focus the participants’ ideas. But you can drive a good thing into the ground. The act of pinning the card is a very formal performance, making a statement, punctuated by that punching sound of the pin going in through the cardboard. If they do it, fumbling fingers. If you do it, you’re in a dominant role. I realize cards are supposed to give the participants flexibility and agency, but in fact the card format can be limiting.

I usually use the flipchart myself, and do a cover sheet detailing the road we’ll take (with room for adaption) and do a lot of careful lettering and drawing as we go along. It’s my space, for adhoc presentation. I visualize concepts in ways I’ve standardized. I feel I owe the participants something reliable to flip back through to review where we’ve been. I’d use a dry wipe board for adhoc notes that can get wiped away, but there usually isn’t one available in these seminar rooms.

But this time, after Jason Renshaw posted an invitation to teachers to show their boardwork (with lots of responses, including Emma Harrod using stickies, which is nicer for sorting than cards, the “un-stick” sound is more pleasant), I thought about how I dominate the visual space in these very structured courses, and decided I need to get out of there, and them in there, and change and simplify things, asking everyone to collect their ideas on the flipchart. As I watched my lovely participants at Bender congregate, unceremoniously and in a very relaxed mood writing things up, talking things over, moving around, coming back to add something else, I thought: This is good. Next time I’ll have participants use the board more, and in more ways. Handing over.

PS: The next morning, looking through this, I’m thinking that perhaps it’s not just the sheet of paper I want the participants to have, after all. Maybe it’s more different materials and shapes to play with and collect in a collage that maps out our course and lets us retrace our steps. I should get a bigger sheet of paper for the pinboard to glue things to. In fact, I’ve just arranged for paper to be there at my next seminar in Cologne next week :)