Speak easy

What makes it easier to speak in a group of 4 or 400?

It’s an all too common feeling. You’ve got something to say but are too scared to say it.

In a small meeting or in a plenary session at a conference.

When a group gathers to discuss a common issue, I think everyone has something to contribute to the conversation. Imagine what we’re missing in what’s not.

There are many reasons why people might not speak.

“They’re smart – I’m dumb”

“I’m too shy”

“I’m too scared!”

“I’ll say the wrong thing”

“What difference will it make?”

A facilitator can’t wave a magic wand and make these concerns disappear.

But the least you can do is make it easier for people to speak. To share ideas. To discuss and debate.

Recently, I asked a group of 300 people with expertise in different aspects of healthcare to come up with ideas on how to measure success.

It was a big question for a short session.

Each group had a mix of people delivering healthcare, funding it, regulating it, receiving it or researching it. Different expertise and different levels of power.

After an hour’s hard work they came up with heaps of suggestions and ideas. They stuck them up on the side wall and stood around for ages afterwards, discussing them, taking photographs and adding more comments and questions.

They produced a rich data set of ideas that could be used to evaluate a new framework.

Practical outcomes. Good job.

But what stayed with me was the thanks I received from a woman who has worked in the sector for 20 years.

She told me that it was the first time she’d ever had the nerve to speak in such a large group.

She’d taken the mic, and the floor, to share the gems from her group’s discussion.

Scribed by    Zahra Zainal

Scribed by Zahra Zainal

When I asked her why she told me it was because I’d made it easy.

She said it was my energy, my ‘style’, how I framed the discussion, my instructions and the time and space they were given. Plus a few other things.

I’ve reflected on what she said and pulled them together below. They might be helpful the next time you want to make it easier for people to speak.

How to make it easier to speak

😃 Bring energy. It shifts the mood and increases motivation. There’s work to do but make it fun!

🖼️ Set the scene and give people a purpose. We’re not robots. We want to know why we’re being asked to ‘do’ an exercise.

✔️ Make it easy to understand. Use plain language – ‘what should be counted and how should we count it?’ worked better than ‘measurements’, ‘indicators’, ‘outputs’ and ‘outcomes’.

✔️ Give people time to get to know each other. Who’s here? What does success in healthcare look like to you?

✔️ Nominate a table facilitator, make sure they’re briefed and have a simple set of instructions to guide the group.

☝️ Have a few roaming facilitators to offer a helping hand if needed

🚁 Let people get on with it. Don’t hover. You’ve heard of helicopter parenting?

What would you add to the list? I’d love to hear your thoughts.