Facilitating The Aha! Moment
This is part of a series on how to facilitate great workshops, and use strategy tools in a genuinely helpful way.
It’s easy to muck up a workshop with a runsheet.
We see the blank page with enough time to talk about six or seven important topics, and try to squeeze in as much as possible.
The catch is, people struggle to do six or seven important things in one day – or the certainly won’t do them all well.
That’s why the essential question for a facilitator is:
What’s the most important moment each person can have today?
In my experience, change happens in moments.
There might be a long build up, or a series of events that happen afterwards, but there’s a turning point where a person changes their mind.
Sometimes this moment catches them by total surprise, other times it’s something they’ve been thinking about for a while.
These might include the decision to start a business, realising you’re in the wrong industry, or the need to change jobs.
In your personal life, it might be the moment you acknowledge that you love someone, end a friendship or apologise for something you did a long time ago.
The moment itself can feel dizzying, and tends to send the rest of your day into a blur.
This changes the way we set up a workshop.
We’re no longer trying to cram in as much content as possible, we’re trying to create a scenario where people can reach important conclusions and make good plans.
Here are a few considerations that will increase the chances of someone having one of these moments:
Safety vs Comfort
There is a difference between feeling safe and feeling comfortable.
If a person feels unsafe, there’s not much chance of them learning anything in that environment – their brain is busy assessing threats and looking for ways to leave the room.
If a person feels too comfortable, they tend to go on autopilot; a pleasant and unproductive state.
For this reason, we want to create a space that feels safe, but then doesn’t let people get too comfortable.
I like to create safety through background music, natural light, good coffee, snacks, frequent breaks and inclusive table arrangements.
Everyone is awake, well nourished and doesn’t feel like they’re being watched.
I also like to prod people out of their comfort zone by making them stand up, talk to people they don’t know, ask them tricky questions and get them to express their opinions.
You’ll have a nice day, but you won’t get to be a passenger.
Pre-empt The Aha! Topics
There are some common trends in Aha! moments, so you’ll get better at navigating through them as you get more practice.
It will be different for your industry, but here are some that come up in my workshops:
“We’re not making enough money, and need to change the model”
“We’re selling to the wrong type of customer”
“Our prices need to be framed differently”
“We should just focus on doing the things we do best”
“We should be selling an additional product/service”
“Our customer is actually our beneficiary; we need to focus on the person who makes the purchase decision”
For some of my colleagues and mentors, their workshops often have recurring themes like:
“We should start a bequest program”
“We need to restructure the business if we want to take on investment”
“We need to fire a certain team member”
Tough topics, but invaluable insights when they’re handled the right way.
Because I’ve seen these before, I have a sense of the examples, cases and questions that help move people through the blurriness and confusion.
One of the most useful things you can do is prevent people from settling on the wrong problem statement.
e.g. instead of selling a different product or picking a different market, it’s tempting for a leader to declare that you’ll double your efforts on sales.
This sounds like a good idea at first, but it hasn’t addressed the underlying issue; you’re selling the wrong thing to the wrong person.
Feel, Felt, Found
Once you have a sense of the Aha! moment, how do you nudge people without stepping on their toes?
Dave Trott has a great example:
“Feel. Felt. Found. That’s all you need to know”
I said how does that work?
He said, “Well, let’s say you’re selling double-glazing for instance.
You tell the prospect it’ll cost around ten thousand pounds.
The prospect frowns
You say, “Look I know how you FEEL. Ten thousand pounds is a lot of money.
I FELT exactly the same way when I had double-glazing put into my house.
But what I FOUND was that the savings on central heating were enormous. And the value it added to my house more than covered the cost”
Now forget the merits, or otherwise, of double-glazing salesmen for a minute.
Look at the simplicity of the language.
Anyone can remember “Feel. Felt. Found.”
Three simple words that, dropped into the conversation in that order, do more than all the charts.
(Feel) First you show empathy with the prospect.
You demonstrate that you understand their reaction.
In a right brain way this releases the emotional need for resistance.
(Felt) Then you talk to them like a friend not a salesman. You tell them about your personal experience. Human being to human being.
(Found) Finally, having established a comfortable bond, you can present all the left brain logical reasons for the purchase decision.
This is a great strategy for telling stories and making people feel safe.
It works particularly well if it involves a case that sounds familiar, such as a business they know or an entrepreneur like them, since they aren’t trying to learn a new story, but rather focus exclusively on the change that the person made.
You might not see the moment coming – it can be hard to forecast.
I find that there are two common times that they emerge: one-to-one, and presenting to a group.
In a one-to-one conversation, you can cut to the heart of the issue.
I usually have another talented teammate who is co-facilitating, who can keep things running while I’m focused on the person I’m listening to, and vice versa.
When you’re in the zone, the last thing you want to do is cut things short because of a runsheet (unless it’s lunchtime, in which case you can break to let everyone else eat).
People are forgiving of this if you get the person to share some of the moment they just had – it’s often a bonding point for the whole room.
That’s the second time the magic happens – when you have a participant work through their Aha! moment in front of the group.
This is wonderful for two reasons; the input and perspective from the other entrepreneurs is golden.
It also lets other participants see an example of an Aha! moment, and quietly leads them towards their own moment of clarity.
If this delays the schedule by 20 minutes, so be it, it will probably end up being a highlight for most participants.
Again, this only works in a safe environment, people won’t be vulnerable with “strangers”.
What To Do With This Newfound Clarity
There are two temptations that follow an Aha! moment; either the person tries to shut down the uncertainty, or they get overly excited and make sweeping decisions.
My aim as a facilitator is to prevent both of these things from happening.
Instead, I want to channel their fear and enthusiasm into a Test Card – a process that helps them define their suspicions, create a realistic experiment, and set the pass/fail criteria.
The Strategyzer Test Card is wonderful, four simple questions that require the person to be clear about their beliefs.
We believe that…
To verify this, we will…
We are right if…
For a nervous person, this clarity removes some of the negative self-talk that can get in the way of their success.
Their mind will start throwing doubt at the idea, telling them that nobody would be silly enough to pay for their crap new product.
The test card removes the irrational fear:
e.g. We believe that people would be happy to pay us to…
To verify this, we will try and pre-sell this to 20 of our customers…
And measure how many of them sign up…
We are right if at least 3 out of 10 pre-order…
For an overly confident person, this new motivation is tempered by hard numbers.
Instead of assuming that huge portions of the market will instantly switch, they set some firm criteria for pre-sales, essentially the same as the example above.
Anyone can write up “50 large clients in 12 months” on a whiteboard, but reality hits when you have to go and talk to the first ten customers.
Setting the criteria early keeps things objective, and allows a team to agree on their definition of success.
Clarity Into Action
This Test Card now becomes the start of an action plan.
Yes, you’ll need more thinking time to create a proper testing strategy, but the ball is now rolling.
I like to ask people to make a commitment for the next two to six weeks.
If it’s less than two weeks, it’s easy to let excuses seep in.
If it’s more than six weeks, momentum tends to get lost.
Three to four weeks feels like the right amount.
Here’s a neat trick; once someone tells you their plan for the next few weeks, ask them:
“So if you only do those things, and not…, will you be happy?” or
“So if you run this test, and it hits these criteria, you’ll commit to proceeding?”
These are wonderful questions because they make the person re-think their commitment.
With a bit of nudging, they’ll re-frame their action plan to prove the idea to themselves, not to you or to their boss.
Having skin in the game generally results in more honest testing, and careful observation of their market.
Once the action plan is set, their day is essentially done.
New content can become overwhelming or unhelpful.
You can even call the session closed, or redirect the time towards designing tests.
Whilst these moments feel like lightning bolts, their build-up and digestion takes time.
To prevent people from becoming overwhelmed, it’s good to give them breathing room.
This can include:
· Splitting tough topics over two days
· Breaking for a shared lunch
· Letting people go for a walk by themselves
· Telling stories about what past participants experienced
· Letting people talk about their uncertainty with the group
· Follow-up phone calls 2-3 days after the session
· Coffee with the person 1-2 weeks after the session
To recap: instead of trying to design a full day of rich content, it might be better to design the important moments that participants need to experience.
When they come up, give them as much time as needed, and don’t be afraid to drop the less important topics you had planned for the afternoon.
With practice you’ll get better at pre-empting these moments and telling good stories, and then turning fear and ambition into fair and objective tests.
As Maya Angelou said:
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Their Aha! moment is more important than your slides and runsheet.