[Podcast] Balancing Facilitation & Strategy w/ Rachel Davis

[Podcast] Balancing Facilitation & Strategy w/ Rachel Davis

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When collaboratively building a brand, how does a strategist balance both the facilitation of workshops and the task of creating the strategy.

What are the key challenges? How can they be overcome? This is the topic of this value-packed episode.

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As a Workshop Experience Designer and facilitator known for her work with the Butter and Miro Communities and as a brand strategist working with global teams Rachel Davis is a bit of a unicorn.

In this episode, we tuck into the very real challenges of the strategist+facilitator with practical tips, tricks, and ideas shared from the outset. Rachel shares experiences and ideas gleaned from her 10+ years as a practitioner in this space. Not to be missed!

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Transcript (Auto Generated)

Hello, and welcome to JUST Branding, the only podcast dedicated to helping designers and entrepreneurs grow brands. Here are your hosts, Jacob Cass and Matt Davies.

Well, hello, folks, and welcome to JUST Branding. Today, we have the wonderful Rachel Davis with us, and you are in for a treat. Who is Rachel Davis?

Well, we’ll come to her in just a second, but just to tee her up a little bit, Rachel is, as I call her, a unicorn of knowledge. She’s had a very interesting roller coaster career up to this point, where she is now an independent consultant. She has been for many years.

Basically, I think you put your title as Workshop Experience Designer and Facilitator, I think is fair to summarize where Rachel’s at. She also does a lot of brand strategy work. Interestingly, she’s worked with Level C and Marty Neumeyer, helping them get their digital offering together, which is a massive honor, I imagine, to have worked with such a prestigious organization.

But you may know Rachel from her work in the butter community. She famously runs a lot of butter mixes and is part of the core community over there, and also with her work in Miro, or Miro, depending on how you pronounce it.

Miro rhymes with hero.

Miro rhymes with hero, and funny enough, you do actually run a community group called Miro Heroes, so fantastic.

Part of it. I do not run that one.

We’ll just give you all the credit. But hey, Rachel, welcome to the show. Looking forward to starting a conversation with you.

I’m really happy to be here. When you told me to be on, I’m like, well, I have conversations with Matt all the time. Why not just do it and record it?

Yeah, I know, right? Yeah, poor Jacob’s not going to know what’s hitting him.

I’m not going to get much in this episode. I already feel it.

Just jump in whenever you want there.

Well, I think it’s probably worth just mentioning to folks what we decided to frame this episode around. Knowing Rachel and knowing her expertise in facilitating workshops, I also have worked alongside her in a couple of projects. I witnessed her also be the strategist at the same time.

This is something that I do occasionally, and I know, Jacob, you also do this. You’re facilitating the workshop, but you’re also trying to get the right information, the nuggets of gold from the participants, underline them, and basically all the things as we like to say. Just trying to do everything.

Rachel is indeed that unicorn who can do that very, very effectively. So we thought we’d frame the conversation around that and pick her brains. If I can use that expression, pick her unicorn brains on some of the key elements.

That being my new tagline though, all the things, because I feel like that’s my whole life.

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All the things or unicorn brains. Either way, I think it would work. Well, I guess first of all, Rachel, we like to start off with some definitions just so that folks can understand, perhaps, where you’re coming from.

First of all, how would you define strategist and facilitator? Those two concepts.

First of all, I love that you’re starting here because one of the things I do as a facilitator is mutual understanding and shared vocabulary sometimes at the beginning of my workshops. I love that we’re doing this here. It’s really interesting when thinking about strategist and facilitator.

You know this probably as being brand strategist that a couple of years ago, someone said brand strategist, I mean, it’s a little better now and it’s getting, but someone said brand strategist and they’re like, what the heck is that? And you’d like look for brand strategy, job descriptions on LinkedIn and they’d be all like wonka doodle. And you’re like, I don’t know what the heck this is saying.

This is not a brand strategist. Well, right now in the life cycle of facilitator, that’s how it is. You look up facilitator job roles and it’s like, mediators or like trainers or coaches, none of them having to do with like actual workshop design and then facilitation.

It’s like, okay, take my thing that I created and facilitate it for me type thing. So facilitator, I think is probably only about three to four years ahead of where brand strategy, or actually behind of where brand strategy is in its life cycle, right? Where there was a lot of confusion with brand strategy a couple of years ago, there’s a lot of confusion now with facilitator.

So I think of a strategist, it’s a lot of sense-making, right? So there’s a lot of things that strategists and facilitators share. But to me, a strategist like challenges all the assumptions, uses questions and then takes those insights and sense-make them into thinking made visible, right?

I think of strategy as thinking made visible, whereas design is strategy made visible, right? You’ve heard that before. So this is really taking the thinking out of people’s brains and actually doing the sense-making and putting together of that into something that inspires action, right?

To me, that’s what strategy, and I think that’s the piece that a lot of strategists, this is the inspired action piece, right? It’s like this bridge between the strategy and the tactical, right? How can you inspire the tactical?

So that’s really, you know, and also like a head for research for strategists, right? A lot of people kind of leave that piece out. But for me, research is really important as a strategist and being able to put yourself in the shoes of the business.

And that’s where my background in user research and service design really helps from a strategy perspective. And there’s a lot of things that they share in facilitators too, right? So as a facilitator, you’re responsible for the vibe in the room.

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That’s something that’s a little specific to facilitator. You don’t have to be an extrovert to be a facilitator or extroverted tendencies, right? I’m actually an introvert in most things.

I’m very tired after a long workshop. I have to take some time. It really drains me.

I love doing it, but I’m not like completely extroverted, right? I could still be a good facilitator, which is I think some strategists are like, well, I’m not an extrovert, so I can’t be a facilitator, right? But I don’t think that’s actually true.

I think you just lean into the things that make you you to be an authentic facilitator. And they share a lot of similar qualities because both strategists and facilitators are helping guide people, right? Helping them discover things they might not have known before, helping them look at possibilities, helping them think both creatively and critically.

I think those positions both share that.

Yeah, I think you’re right. There’s a lot of overlap, isn’t there? But I love the way that you describe strategy or the strategist as, you know, somebody helping people make thinking visible.

I think that’s just amazing, right? And then the facilitator being responsible in the moment, in the room. The difference I see, I don’t know what your thoughts are, Jacob, but I definitely see that is the difference.

The strategist doesn’t necessarily have to be in the moment at that, kind of creating the experiences and helping people in the moment, necessarily. They could kind of be a little bit more reserved and take stuff away and think things through. Whereas the facilitator really is there upfront on the co-face, running those workshops, designing those workshops, making sure that they run to plan.

And sometimes, I know you can have both of those roles separated, right? You can.

You could be co-facilitators.

Or even you could have a facilitator whose only job, right, is to just kind of design the workshop and leave everybody through it, and a strategist almost participating in the workshop as it proceeds, and the two don’t have to mingle. So it’s just a thought. Jacob, any thoughts on that?

Yeah, absolutely. So how I see it is both of them acting as a guide, right? So you, as a facilitator or a strategist, you’re guiding them through the process.

One’s a little bit more hands-on and a little bit more tactical in some ways, and the facilitator, you have a kind of you’re standing off a little bit more. That’s how I see it.

You’re talking about having both of them in the room. I actually do that a lot with some verbal workshops and things like that. Actually, I call it a facilitator and a discussion lead.

I lead the momentum of the workshop and create the activities. Usually, what I’ll design is an internal run of show ahead of time, which has each activity, and there’s a prompts section. The discussion lead, so if there’s another strategist or if it’s a copywriter, or if it’s even a designer in the room with me that has that expertise, they can look at all of that ahead of time that we’ve kind of co-created the workshop together.

They can put prompts and information for them as the expert to kind of help them along with the discussion and keep that conversation moving.

Yeah, I love that. That’s awesome. So, Rach, what’s your experience been, I guess, in these two types of roles, like doing them together, I guess, because as we’ve sort of hinted at, that’s not easy.

Like, we can split these roles out and you can have them very separate, but doing it together as one, what’s your experience been like? Good things, bad things?

Well, sometimes it’s a challenge because when you’re an expert in something or close to an expert, I’m not going to call myself like the master expert of all things, but when you are really well-burst in a subject like strategy and you’re running a strategy workshop, right? You want to fill space more than you want to make space because you know all the things in your head, right? And you might be kind of like chomping at the bit to get some of those ideas out, especially if you’ve done some research beforehand and you know what the activities are and you’re like, oh, I got to tell them this and I got to tell them that.

Well, one of the techniques that I use to kind of help me not do that is I actually go back and look at my run of show and look at my activities and I write down all my thoughts ahead of time because that gets it out of my head. And so it’s not at the tip of my brain as I do the workshop. And I’m like, like trying to get it out of my mouth, right?

I’ve written it down. If I’m collaborating with someone, I might actually have like a free workshop session with them where I talk through some of that. But it kind of gets it out of my brain.

And I’m not really trying to push it through in a workshop because really in the workshop, you want to gather the insights. It’s a gathering step. You’re a gatherer.

You’re not creating strategy. You have to kind of separate, just like you would with brainstorming, you have to separate creative thought from critical thought because they can’t exist in the same moment. They can exist after each other.

But critical thought brings in evaluation and judgment. And if you bring that in too soon in a workshop, you’re going to shut people down.

I agree there. The way you say gathering verse, not creating. I kind of say we’re trying to get the ingredients out.

We’re trying to get all the ingredients, then we can cook up something amazing. And that’s the metaphor I use for our clients. I was just curious with your run of show, right?

It sounds like you do a lot of planning before you jump into a workshop.

He’s the queen of planning.

I do a lot of planning. So, Matt, you actually said something earlier that the facilitator, their role is in the room. I actually don’t agree with that.

Their role is the entire experience. Fair enough.

You’re right. Yeah, it’s wider than that.

It’s wider than the moment in the room or the Zoom or the butter. It’s more than that, right? It’s all the way from your very opening moments to your closing moments to even after.

And so that’s why I plan to understand, okay, how am I going to get people excited about this even beforehand? How am I going to set expectations even beforehand? How am I going to give them an agenda ahead of time?

How am I going to tell them what’s going to happen when they’re in the room so that they come prepared knowing that we’re not going to create and it’s just insights? And then how many sessions, right? Maybe there’s a couple different sessions that are needed because we have more participants maybe, or we don’t have as much time in the room each time.

So you have to really kind of create that entire experience. And to me, it really helps me visually get that down and plan. And also, I think that’s just the way my brains always work.

You know, I have a project management certification for 10 years now. I worked in kind of a, you know, very corporate or governmenty environments where, you know, those are the type of approaches that they use. I always try to kind of put a little creativity in it.

But I actually start on a brainstorming board for Miro. And I just kind of use the cards there. And I understand first what the desired outcome is.

What are we trying to do? Is it strategy for an overall brand? Is it a campaign, right?

Like, what are we trying to get to? What are our gaps and what activities actually have purpose behind them for that? And then I kind of go narrow on that.

And I use a session lab usually for my runs of show because I can time the time box and change the time next to each one. I don’t change the overall time. I don’t have to like recalculate things.

It’s really great. Or I’ll just use something like Google Docs if I’m if it’s with a particular client. Or Dropbox Paper or something like that that they use internally.

So session lab, is that like a tool or an app that just breaks out?

It is. Yeah, it’s an agenda-making tool.

Rachel is also the queen of tools.

I am.

And various other things like workshop cards and things, which we can get into another year or so.

Oh yeah, I am.

Oh no. It’s really great because I have some brand strategy cards as well that I kind of actually weave into some activities.

Session Lab. I was just curious what that does.

Yeah, it’s actually an agenda-making tool, but a run-of-show is really just a more detailed agenda, right? And so you can actually have a detailed agenda in Session Lab. And there’s a feature where you can share an agenda outline only, which just kind of brings it up to the high level.

You could share that with your participants ahead of time. Session Lab is really great if you’re co-creating with someone else, because you can add someone as an editor to it, and you can also categorize each activity. So I could say, okay, this is our opening moment.

This is a energizer. This is a go-wide activity. This is an evaluation.

This is a voting. And I can break it down like that.

So what would you say the essentials are for this run-of-show? Like you’ve mentioned a lot, but for someone that’s doing this for the first time, what would you say, like, how would you go about it?


For a beginner, the best things to have in a run-of-show is timing. When does the activity start and how long is it? Roles, who is running the activity and who is supporting the activity.

So if you have a discussion lead and then what the facilitator is going to do, any instructions or anything like that, any materials or things you might need to reach towards as examples or something like that, that you’re not necessarily outwardly putting on, let’s say, a Miro board and then a prompts section. Questions you might want to ask, research you’ve done, things that support a conversation. I would say those are pretty much the basic information you want and then you want to throw some quick links at the top if you’re doing it in a Google Doc or something.

Here’s the Zoom or Butter link, here’s the Miro link, just you have everything all together for the people who are running the workshop.

Do you share this with the attendees beforehand? How much do you share with the participants beforehand?

For brand strategy workshops, sometimes I’ll actually do an asynchronous activity first, to actually gather some information for the workshop. Usually we’ll have a kickoff and there might be some outstanding questions from that. Maybe there’s a questionnaire ahead of time and we ask some things in the kickoff and then we’re still not really sure, do we go really deep on attributes or do they already have values or do we want to gather more things beforehand?

Because really you want them to feel like you heard them and you’re not repeating things and you’re also not asking them things they already know. Sometimes I will craft a custom async activity that really gets some information out of them. Let’s say for a verbal part of a brand strategy workshop, one of the ones we like to do is ask them to come prepared to the workshop with a character or celebrity or someone that represents the voice of their brand.

So we’ll ask them to bring things to the workshop. So that could be part of how we set expectations. Then there’s always going to be an agenda.

We send a high level agenda that kind of says, hey, we’re going to start with a quick check in and then we’re going to do activities around these topics. Don’t go into the specific activities or the instructions, especially because some things might change after the async activity. Keep it high level so that it still applies if something changes.

Let them know if you’re going to have a break halfway through. That’s really important for them to understand the timing of that. Hey, we’re going to do some of these, we’re going to have a break, then we’re going to do some of these, then we’re going to reflect and talk about next steps.

Then I always include technical expectations. I usually do these in Butter. Hey, if you’re joining Butter for the first time, here’s some things to know.

You might want to download the app or you can use it for a browser. Here’s some good browsers. Check these things before you join.

And join from a quiet place. I use all those things, you know, own device, not on a phone.

We were discussing this in our last episode on how to come up with big ideas and how we facilitate and how we guide the clients through our sessions. And my process was, I often send them a question in, like you mentioned beforehand, just to see where we need to focus and where is good. So that was a handy thing we shared last week.

Yeah. And the other thing, I mean, Rachel, you’ve touched on this as well, whether or not you speak to participants beforehand, which is my preferred route, if you like, or a combination, a survey or questionnaire, as well as a conversation. Yeah, an interview.

I think I always find that you build a bit of rapport as individuals, but before then you throw them into a scenario where they’ve got to navigate the dynamics of a group, which is always different, right? Yeah. Yeah, I mean, these are great.

What about afterwards? That’s preparing them for it. What’s your tips for after the workshop experience?

What are your views there?

I’m going to add one more to the before because it ties to the after. A lot of times I really like to do, and it depends on the client I’m doing this with or if I’m doing it through an agency, but I like for a lot of my own workshops to record a welcome video. So they know I’m a person, it’s not just a bunch of words.

I usually just really high level, no more than three minutes, hey, I’m really excited to see you. If I don’t get a chance to do some of those interviews or something like that, or if it’s a larger group, if it’s more extensive, I think a welcome video is really great. Another really great tool for that is video asked, because you can do a welcome video and ask a question at the end, and they can respond via video, via audio, or via text.

It provides this engagement asynchronously. That’s something else I like to do beforehand, and that can also apply to afterwards. I like to have some sort of thank you.

Many times I like to have a thank you video that goes out with that. When I’m working different types of workshops, like creativity workshops, I’ll have a Notion Hub, which has all of the expectations up front before the workshop. Then I will put a link to the playback, which is what happens after the workshop, in that same hub.

I love Notion. They go to that Notion page and they have everything there. They have their agenda from the beginning, and then they have everything from that afterwards.

What a playback is, is just observations. We’re not strategy yet, we’re not creating anything yet, we’re not getting into a wordsmithing war. It’s really just, what did I hear?

What did I observe? What did you share with me? Then give people a moment to take that in.

Did you have any aha moments after the time in the room? Is there anything that’s not resonating with you here? Did you say something and now you’re like, nope, that’s not what I meant to say.

It’s just playing back what we did in the workshop. It gives them that time and that space to breathe and sit with it before we go into strategy.

I’ve got another question here. I wanted to float because you’ve mentioned a couple of times that you don’t see the brand strategy workshops as creating together, but mainly gathering of information. That’s how you say it.

I was going to ask you about that. Do you ever do more co-creation style workshops in that? Because I have done that to some extent, but you still have to say, I’m the strategist, I’ve got to own where it’s going to go.

But I find that if you can do co-creation, you get a bit of buy-in from clients. What are your thoughts on that and why do you just do it as a gathering rather than a co-creation?

Well, no, I’ve done co-creation as well before, but I like to separate those two activities. Because remember, I talked about creative thought and critical thought. So if we’re going to do that, there are two sessions or multiple sessions.

The first session is insight gathering. Then when we come back for a co-creation, we have all that input. We have the research that I’ve done maybe on desk research or voice of customer, and then we have all the insights.

We’re having all the perspectives from all the different directions, and then we get back in the room together and do co-creation. Because if you try to do them together, you have two desired outcomes. Our outcome is to gather insight and also create strategy, and that’s too much for one session.

You want to give the time in between because between insight and creation, there might be things that come to mind. Not everyone thinks out loud.

Yes. Yeah, I love that. I absolutely agree with that, by the way.

I just wanted to clarify something.

It was a trick question, I think.

Well, it was just generally interesting. It’s a distinction that I don’t consciously make, but it is there. The way you pointed out is absolutely obvious, so absolutely brilliant.

Thank you very much. I guess the next question is, what do you find is challenging with both of those hats on? What are the biggest challenges that you’ve come across in your multiple roles and doing these projects?

I think we’ve touched on a couple of those already. It’s really tempting to want to do strategy in real time, so that’s a big challenge, especially for people who are strategists first, and then bringing in facilitation as part of their skill set. You really are like, well, this is what I do.

I want to do this. Let’s do this. That can be really challenging, and that was really challenging for me at first too.

I wanted to show my skill set and show what I can do and show that in the room. I think it’s really challenging to remember to listen before you respond, especially as an expert on the topic. It can be really challenging to not want to, like I said, blurt all those things out that you have top of mind.

So that technique for writing them down is really how that helps me. It’s also really challenging to not want to be a perfectionist, right? Like I’m a recovering perfectionist, I am still recovering perfectionist, right?

I was never a perfectionist to start with, so it doesn’t bother me. Anyway, sorry, carry on, Rachel.

But then it doesn’t have to be perfect in the room, right? That could be challenging, right? It’s okay if things go off track and that’s really a great skill to have as a facilitator, the ability to pivot and adapt.

I think that’s your designer background coming out, Rachel, the perfectionism.

Yeah, it is. And my detail oriented just in general kind of where I started my career is, I think that’s right.

I absolutely feel you about trying to just stand back as a designer. I’m like, oh, that name could work well, and then you can have this mascot and I can design it this way. And it’s like, just take a step back.

We’re not solving problems here.

It’s like holding back all the goods, right? It’s holding back all those goods in the back of your mind and bringing those up when you get to the critical thought step, right? Because you might actually develop more possibilities by just listening.


But the sort of the designer, the design thinking training kicks off in my brain that I don’t know what you think about this, Rachel, but with any sort of workshop process, it seems to me that we go through the classic divergent, co-vergent thinking. You know I love a bit of design thinking, right? Me too.

So we’re opening things out like what Jacob said earlier. We’re getting all the ingredients out. We’re coming up with possibilities.

We’re exploring facts. What are the facts? Get it all out, right?

That’s one plain sort of train of thought. But the next train is when we go into the divergent, which is where we’re looking to simplify. Sorry, let me get this right.

Yes. Convergent, where we’re looking to simplify and make decisions, if you like, on what the problem statement is, or on what the solution might be, on the creative concepts, which one we’re going to choose to process, whatever it might be. So how do you find that?

I’ll tell you. Tell me.

Come on in. Let’s go.

So to me, it’s okay to go wide and go narrow in a insight gathering workshop. That’s not necessarily pure critical thought yet. It’s a little bit critical thought, but it’s okay to go narrow towards possibilities.

You’re not making any decisions set in stone. So I’m a really big fan of go wide on all the ideas. Have some sort of way to have a mutual understanding of the ideas.

Don’t go right to voting, right? Use something like a two-by-two matrix where you’re plotting things or you’re looking at things from a different perspective, a different lens, a different frame. Don’t go right to voting.

Then when you get to the voting, just call it a heat map, right? We’re trying to figure out what things are bubbling to the top. What are the possibilities that are bubbling to the top?

That’s still insight. That’s not strategy creation yet. It’s a decision on what the possibilities are, not what the final strategy is.

That really helps you keep it to the top three. Then you’re not backing yourself into a corner as a strategist. When you get out of that workshop, you can explore all the possibilities.

Yeah, I love that.

Okay, next question.


You’ve given a few along the way. What would your top tips be, Rachel, for people who want to explore this and do this, facilitate a strategist at the same time?

My very first one is think of it as an experience. Not everything happens in the room like we talked about. It’s what happens before, what happens after, how do you keep that momentum?

That’s my first tip. My second tip is everything should have a reason. Everything you’re doing, whether it’s before the workshop and an async activity, every single activity, every single thing, you should be able to, before you run that workshop, write down the why.

You should be able to do that before you even step into that workshop session. You should be able to explain why are we doing this. Even like a purposeful connection activity at the beginning, I don’t like to call them icebreakers.

Why are we doing it? Are we doing it to open up our minds to creative thought? Are we doing like a 30 circles activity because we want to see if people can think outside the circle?

What are we doing at the beginning? I really love the sunset exercise as a purposeful connection where you help people understand that you should be seeing things from different perspectives. Maybe it’s a team who doesn’t have as much psychological safety and doesn’t really speak up or thinks about things in the status quo or from one perspective.

That’s a really great activity to start with, but you should have a reason for everything you’re doing.

Rachel, walk us through that.

Yeah, what is the sunset?

Sunset. I actually have a butter template for it. I can provide it as well, but it’s actually an IDEO activity.

I learned it from IDEO and it’s fantastic. It takes only five minutes. You can use it as an energizer.

You can use it as a purposeful connection in the beginning, and it combines the physical with the virtual. You make sure that everyone brings two pieces of paper and a Sharpie or a marker or a pen. No pencils.

Make sure no one brings any pencils. We’re not erasing anything. You give them 30 seconds to draw a sunset.

Put a timer on, a little music. That’s all you tell them. Draw a sunset.

Everyone’s done that. You say, hey, show me a show of hands or emojis. How many sunsets have a horizon line?

They’ll respond. How many sunsets have rays coming out of the sun? Usually, a lot of people raise their hands.

How many sunsets have some sort of water? How many sunsets have birds that look like McDonald’s arches? How many sunsets might have a palm tree?

Usually, sometimes they don’t if it’s a more creative team, but usually, and then I have them hold that up. Usually, they all look the same because they’ve been thinking about what does a sunset have to look like or what does a good sunset look like? That’s what came to their mind when you ask that question.

Then you put that down, you have them take the other paper and you ask it this way. Take 30 seconds, draw a sunset that you remember. Where were you?

Who were you with? What were you feeling? And then they draw that.

And then you have everyone hold that up and they’re usually very, very different. And usually, I’ll call on one person or ask someone that wants to share the story behind their sunset. And then why do we do this?

Just a small tweak in the way that you asked that got a whole room of different perspectives. Whereas the first question got all the same perspective. Because what is the status quo of what a sunset should look like?

And it really helps set people up for how do you look at things through different lenses?

That is brilliant. I love that. I’m going to take that one away.

I use it all the time. Yes, use it.

What are some other, I was going to say icebreakers, purposeful connections that we can use?

Oh, yeah. So I mentioned 30 circles, which is one of my favorites as well. I also like-

Rachel, just for folks that maybe haven’t done that, do you want to just explain that one just briefly? Oh, sure. Just for newbies and stuff.

I like to pair it down and maybe not put 30 circles, maybe 10, to like blank circles for each person in the room. You could do it on a Miro board, you could actually have a printout of circles, you could have a PDF beforehand if it’s a virtual one. You tell people to take, it depends how many people in the room, how comfortable they are in one to two minutes, and make whatever they want out of the circles.

You don’t give any other instructions. Then you see who stayed in the circle, who maybe connected circles, who used more than one, who went outside the circle. It’s about understanding that you can go outside the line.

You don’t have to stay within the lines. You get that creative thought out there. That’s a creativity exercise.

There’s a ton of them. One to break perfectionism, if you want to go into that. I like to use this one where you have everyone draw a self-portrait with their left hand, or they’re non-dominant, the left is my non-dominant, and then you have everyone hold them up.

It’s about embracing imperfection. It’s letting people know.

I’ll tell you the other thing. You get so many people laughing after that.


It’s so intense. Smile for its creativity. You’re like, right, draw.

Then you’re like, right, finish, ding dong. Right. Hold them up and then just get a room full of people just laughing at their own terribleness.

Brilliant. Then I also love Lego Serious Play. You can do this virtual.

There is a virtual duck building tool, but I like to do it in person. Here’s my purple duck there. One I really like to do with Lego Serious Play is about understanding communication.

Sometimes I’ll use it as a first activity. You have two people, they go back to back. Each person gets, it’s not built yet, it’s just a series of blocks, then they get it in a bag, and you pair off and you go back to back, and one person takes a minute, builds the duck.

They can’t see each other, builds the duck, just one person first. Then they have to explain without looking at the other person still back to back, how to build their duck. It’s about communication techniques.

Then we do a reflection afterwards. It’s like, okay, how did you communicate with each other? What was the style?

What would you change if you were to do this again? And so if there’s something where you need to build communication between a team before you go into something like leadership or strategy, that’s a really great one to start with.

That’s really cool. I love that. There’s a couple of go-tos that I love to use, that I might share.

There’s one that I find really simple, which is where you basically ask people, what was their first job, and what was a lesson that they learned from it, particularly with teams that don’t really know each other, even if they think they know each other quite well. Just great, you get to find out where people grew up, what type of work they did to start with. It’s very, very interesting, and you often get a much more of a depth of connection throughout the rest of the workshop.

If you have a team struggling with psychological safety, one really simple one to start with is to say, look, everyone’s going to get one minute on uninterrupted time, so that they know they’ve got one minute. I’m going to put my timer on as the facilitator. And you get to basically have one minute to answer two questions.

One is, what do you need from everybody here to ensure that you’re comfortable throughout the rest of this workshop? Really, really good. And then I like to tag on the end of that for people that think that that’s silly.

I like to tag on and what would you like to come away with from the workshop? That balances up. If someone’s feeling vulnerable, they get to emphasize what they need, but also what they want to get out of it.

And I think that’s a good balance. And final one, final one. I don’t know if you’ve ever done this one before.

It’s called Snowballs, right? It’s really good fun. This is only really works.

I don’t know if this would work virtually, so maybe you’d be able to tell us if it would. But definitely physically, right? You basically get a sheet of paper and you give them the participants’ questions.

Could be five random questions, but I tend to like be like some crazy ones like, what do you have for lunch? You know, what was the last book you read? You know, just the interesting things I love to say.

You know, if you were a superhero, what would your superpower be? Random things like this. And then you get them to screw up that paper.

And then as a facilitator, I go around with my little hat or whatever and I pick them all up. And then I jumble them around and I redistribute them. And then the aim of the game, this is great energizer, is to basically be like, right, open yours up, guess who’s it is, right?

Who you think it is at the top. And then we just go around the room and see who it is. Now, even if they get it wrong, it doesn’t matter.

I make sure all the questions you ask generally are quite positive because you don’t want, I don’t know, someone, how dare you say that about me? But, you know, what all of those things do is, purposeful connections is a great way of putting it, Rachel. I’ve never heard that before, actually, but it does.

It gives you that depth, that kind of camaraderie that’s required to then go and do the deep work. Any builds on those, Rachel?

Yeah, actually, the one you mentioned with the two questions, I like to do a variation on that, hopes and fears. That’s a really great one to start a workshop with. You know, what are you hoping for today?

And what are you afraid of today? What are you worried about for today? And that really helps me as a facilitator to kind of make sure that I’m meeting people where they are.

Nice. I love that.

I also use it, what do you want to get out of this workshop today? Just so we have context and we’re dialed in and we don’t miss anything.


Because if you want to get one thing out of it, I usually say, what’s the one thing you want to get out of today? You then you can get the voices from everyone collectively.

Have you ever thought about doing that before the workshop as a pre-workshop activity?

Even before the room, it’s really great to do those when you’re sending an agenda or a welcome video or something. So it helps you actually prepare the workshop too.


It’s a bit alarming, isn’t it? When you’ve asked them beforehand, they’ve all told you, you’ve made sure the agenda ticks all the boxes and you get in the room, you’re like, so what do you want to get out? They’re like, I want to get out blue bananas.

You’re like, what? We never discussed this before.

Well, that’s where choose your own adventure agendas really come in handy. As a facilitator, you might have a different path that you know that you’re going to go down if something happens based on what you know. Your agenda is just a guide.

Sometimes you have a choose your own adventure step where you’re like, okay, do we want to stay on this a little more for five more minutes? Or do we want to go to something near? You have all the words, you have all the phrases.

That’s such a great way of calling it. Yeah, choose your own adventure, folks. Look at that.

You heard it from Rachel first. I love it.

Yeah, I think we were on our top tips. We stopped at two.

Give us some more. Sorry, I deviated. I got excited about and I love energizers and not icebreakers, purposeful connections.

Give us some more tips and I’ll promise to be quiet.

No, you can speak up. This one’s actually one of my favorites, is turning criticism into curiosity. There’s lots of ways to do this, but turn some of those challengers in the workshop around.

If someone says, we can’t do that, help them turn it into a question, why would we XYZ? It ends in a question mark. If they say, we tried that and it didn’t work, help them turn it into, how might that work this time if it didn’t before?

What that does is it makes things not a firm statement that ends a conversation, and rather it turns them into a question that keeps the conversation going. So even if the sentiment is the same, you’ve turned it into a question that’s going to help that conversation unfold instead of shutting down everyone in the room. That’s one of my favorite things to do.

Yeah. Then embrace silence. I’m getting better and better at this.

I used to be really bad at it, and I actually created my own framework for embracing silence. I think you’re one of the couple of the first people to hear it. I’ve used it in some paid workshops before, but I call it giving space.

The S is be quiet. The P is pause, use the eight-second rule, wait at least that long. The A is ask again.

Ask the question again. Then the C is care, show you care about what’s happening in the room, what they’re saying. Then E is experience that with them, making sure that they knew that you were present in the moment.

I just remind myself of that every time there’s a little bit of quiet in the room. Because again, not everyone thinks out loud.

That’s great. Eight seconds, that’s like an eternity. It is.

God, it feels so long and I have to count it in my head. I’m like, oh gosh, okay. Sometimes if it goes past that, if we hadn’t done an individual portion of that, I might say, hey, if everyone wants to take a moment and write this down individually for themselves first, I like to use that individual small group than large group a lot of times.

But if we hadn’t done that for an activity, I’ll give a little time for that. For breakouts in particular, sometimes people will just send people into breakouts. You’ll tell them what to do and just send them into a breakout.

That’s how it usually happens. I like to give one to two minutes after I explain what’s going to happen and get any questions on the instructions, give them time to think and reflect on that question themselves first, especially for introverts because you’re not shoving them directly into a room with people after you’ve given them instructions and you’re giving them space to think before they get put in that breakout room. That really helps with some of the silence to people open up a bit more.

Then do your research and use it, is I think my last tip here, from a strategist perspective, a strategist and a facilitator. Use that as a facilitator. Make sure you’re collecting information ahead of time, like we talked about, not just about the company and the organization, but about the participants, about the customers.

Make sure that you build in time before those actual sessions to do your research and to use your research to both build and facilitate. Understanding the participants is really important too with that research, because if you know someone is an expert in a certain area or they are, maybe they’re like a thought leader in a certain area for the company, the way that you’re going to help get them engaged in a workshop is by honoring that expertise and knowing who they are and where they’re coming from.

Thank you for sharing that. I have a question of where you learned all this, but I also want to share one piece of one tip as well. So I recently finished a communications course by someone called Vin Jian.

I don’t know if I’m saying his name right, but he had this technique of saying, before we begin at the start of his presentations. So psychologically, it puts everyone at ease saying, oh, we’re not actually starting yet. So you can start by saying, before we begin, we’re going to do this.

And he showed clips of every single time he’s on stage. He always says it before we begin.

I love that.

So yeah, that was just one I want to share. That’s ingrained in me now. So the next question, as I mentioned, like where did you learn all of this in a facilitation?

So I’m mostly self-taught, right? So I’ve been doing this my whole career, even if I didn’t know that it was facilitation, like in some way, I really kind of got my love for it. One of the jobs that I had was actually helping researchers present their research so they could get more funding.

Like these are scientific minds that I’m helping tell a story and the guiding of that. I really loved it, right? So I decided then that I wanted to learn more about it.

I used to be part of the AIGA, which is in the US as the Professional Association for Design. I used to be part of their board in Baltimore and in San Antonio. When I was in Baltimore, they actually had an event for board members in New York City with the IBM Design Thinking Facilitators.

It was a two-day workshop at IBM and that was fantastic. I learned so much stuff there and being able to do that in person. We did a little role-playing and we did a lot of stuff in that design thinking and facilitating design thinking.

I really used that throughout a lot of stuff. Then cross-pollination, like reading all the things I can on different things outside of facilitation. Creativity, psychology, all these different things that might tangentially influence how I improv activities.

I actually just got this book in the mail today, the big book of improv games to how do you use that for a facilitation techniques and helping adapt in the room and overcome things as a facilitator. So looking outside the field and just reading and listening to all the things, really influences who I am as a facilitator.

I think we need to tell you how many times you said all the things.

All the things.

All the things. It’s funny you say improv because in the same course, the communications course, one of the tips is to try out improv because it helps you think on your toes, right? Yeah.

The thing is, Rachel, one thing I noticed about you, you’re always dabbling, right? And you’re very inspirational like that. I think when we first met some years ago, I did a course because of you, because I think you recommended doing the IBM Design Thinking course.

And I did it.

I did recommend that.

It was fantastic. Really, really, really was good. So I remember that about you.

You’re always reading books and doing various things.

I have your book right here, actually. Oh, I have my blouses.

That’s very kind.


Well, and I think that’s why you connect with me funnily enough early doors.

Yes, I did. I wrote you on LinkedIn. I was like, I’m just going to tell you I like your book.

Which is very kind. You mentioned earlier on cards for workshops.


Because I know that’s an area that you excel in. Talk to us about your obsession with workshop cards.

Oh, man.

Share some with everybody.

I can. Oh, my goodness. I have like a whole wall over here.

You can’t see on the camera, but I’m going to grab one because I love all of them, right? But I remember you talked about creativity. So like card packs like this.

So this is the creative whack pack, right? Just about creativity techniques really helps me as a facilitator. So like, you know, this first card in here is try a random idea.

Try a random idea. You know, the next card here is ask what if, right? These are all creativity techniques, but you can roll them in and remix them with something that might start to get to be a stale branding activity, right?

Something you learn, like, and something that everyone’s doing now. Like, these are the ways that I help my activity stand out, is by kind of infusing some of these other things. What else?

I’ve got like, Tick Start Creativity Think Pack is a really great deck that I really love, which is a creativity deck. I’ve got actually, you know, a bunch on brand attributes. I have one on values.

That’s really great. It’s about personal values, but I use it in branding. I can’t remember what that one’s called.

I have so many. I have one called The Box of Emotions. That’s really great.

It kind of talks about different emotions, which helps with, you know, attributes in branding and also verbal. It really kind of helps in that way. And I’ve done reviews of most of these card decks on my Medium page.

And so I kind of talk about how you can use them as a facilitator, what you can do with some of those cards. Are they straight activities or do you put them into an activity? Are they an overall approach?

Gosh, I just love card decks. Like I don’t actually ever use the physical cards in a workshop, but I use them to help me plan and build activities and workshop.

So, I have a very big love for that.

My husband had to build me like three shelves up here. I have three full shelves of, I’ll have to send you all a picture, huge shelves because they were all over the floor.

I’m glad you specified that you plan beforehand. You’re not just dealing cards like a magician in your workshops. I’m sure some people do.

I love magic and workshops. Have you all ever heard of Abracademy? So, they are actually magician facilitators, and they use magic in their facilitation.

They’re fantastic. They do team building and leadership and creativity, and they use magic for it.

That’s funny you mention that because Vin’s course, he’s a magician and his half his course is magic. My dad’s a magician as well, so I grew up around magic. But sadly, I’m not a magician.

But there’s always possibility. You could be one.

Do you know we’ve been doing this podcast for four years, and I don’t think I knew that fact. So this is definitely something to tuck into in the future, Mr. Cass. All that purposeful connection there.

See, there you go.

There we are. She’s brought it out of us. The magical unicorn has brought it out of us, Jacob.

Now we’re closer together. I love it. Look, I think we will start winding things down.

Was there anything else you wanted to add, Rachel? I guess the other follow-up question apart from that from me is, where can people get in touch with you? Anything else to add and then how do people get in touch with you or find out some of your stuff, your medium content, et cetera?

I mean, one of the things I just want to add is that you don’t have to have the title facilitator to be a facilitator. It’s a skill that you can build a practice for yourself around facilitation because you could facilitate anything. You could facilitate a one-on-one meeting, you can facilitate any experience.

A stakeholder interview can be a facilitated experience. I would encourage people to really learn some of those skills, even if they don’t think they are a facilitator because there are so many skills there that will help you in whatever job you have as a strategist or otherwise. So I really just kind of wanted to say that.

Yeah, where can people find me? So I love Bento and I have a Bento page, which is bento.me slash Rached Davis, and it has all the different places you can find me. I have my paid workshops, my free workshops, any podcasts I’ve been on, recordings of my past workshops, everything on their templates, resources.

As I said, I love Notion, so you’ll find Notion lists of facilitation books, and creativity books, and card decks. You’re going to find all the things on that page. It’s like my hub.

All the things. There we go, all the things. You said it in unison.

I know. This is the connection you brought out between me and Jacob today. There we are.

It’s been absolutely wonderful, Rachel, having you on. Thanks for sharing all of that wisdom and knowledge bombs along the way. Really, really great.

Folks, follow Rachel. She’s an inspiration to us all, and we look forward to having you back again next time for another amazing episode of JUST Branding. Thanks for joining us.

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