Recently we invited Senior Consultant Tomi Nagai-Rothe to join us for a live Facebook chat about graphic facilitation. The following is a transcript of our interview and comments from participants. We’ve also included a video that showcases Tomi’s work.


The Grove Consultants International: What is the one thing to say to sell a skeptical person on a graphically facilitated meeting?

Tomi Nagai-Rothe: People will share more ideas, see how their work fits into the bigger picture and remember what they signed up to do.

The Grove: How do you estimate the amount of time needed to prepare for a graphically facilitated meeting?

Tomi: I generally use 1 meeting day to 1.5 prep days as a guideline. Sometimes it takes longer – 1:2 or even more days if it’s a large or complicated event. And sometimes it can be 1:1. And of course the prep time required doesn’t always correspond with the amount you can bill for.

The Grove: How many planning sessions do you generally need to prepare – with the client?

Tomi: Usually it’s one scoping call/meeting, one design meeting (2+ hours) and a few phone meetings (1 – 3) to fine-tune the agenda and other preparations. This is fairly common – and then special cases are variations of this pattern.

The Grove: Who do you include in the meeting design process?

Tomi: A design team of 2 to 5 – representative of the kinds of people who will be attending the meeting.

The Grove: How do you draw out people who tend to be quiet but have good ideas?

Tomi: Find some way to create space for them – 1) Do a go-around and ask each person to share 2) Pause and invite those who haven’t yet shared to jump in (but no pressure) 3) Include pair and trio conversations.

The Grove: What do you do with someone who is disrupting the flow of the meeting – by talking too much or pulling in the wrong direction?

Tomi: 1) Try to open up some verbal space for others (see above). 2) Make a general call for active speakers to step back for awhile. 3) If 1 and 2 aren’t successful, pull the person aside at the break and ask if they could hang back a bit.

The Grove: Have you ever had to implement option #3?

Tomi: Yes. Kind of tricky. I was working with a co-facilitator which helped – someone could play “bad cop.” If one approaches the situation with compassion it can be successful – but no guarantees.

The Grove: What do you draw on when the meeting seems to be going off the rails, and unexpected things happen (and it’s scary)?

Tomi: Good question. I think that’s when we really earn our keep as facilitators. When things start going haywire, it comes down to one’s personal practice – i.e. facilitation as a personal development path. It’s important to know and develop oneself – one’s sense of compassion, groundedness, knowledge of self, listening, ability to be present for others, ability to navigate when emotions run high. Because when things get tough, that’s all you have to fall back on. And groups sense that. They will trust your process leadership and feel safe if you have these life skills.

The Grove: Which graphic formats do you use the most for graphic recording?

Tomi: I generally use the list, cluster and drawing formats – though you’ll sometimes find combinations of formats in my work.

The Grove: How do you write down someone’s words without missing the next comment?

Tomi: I think of two “listening buckets.” In one bucket I have the words I am going to write, in the next I’m listening for and collecting the next set of words. As I begin writing a new phrase, the second bucket opens up for the next comment. Tip: don’t get involved in what people are saying otherwise the buckets get clogged up!

Rachel Smith: Tomi, what kind of meetings do you like best to facilitate? Do you have a favorite?

Tomi: I really enjoy facilitating smaller meetings where people know one another and can go a bit deeper into the content and draw on the relationships they’ve built over time. It’s less of a facilitator vs. group role and more about witnessing.

Daniel Hoang: To tag onto Rachel, do you find that subject matter changes your approach? Can a subject matter be too technical (rocket science), or does the approach remain the same?

Tomi: Subject matter generally doesn’t change my overall approach but it may impact my preparation. Technical meetings sometimes require some a “language” briefing and occasionally a glossary (!)

The Grove: How do you choose what to write down without overly editing or paraphrasing people’s words?

Tomi: I focus on capturing the subject and verb plus an adjective or adverb – 4 – 6 words that actually came out of the person’s mouth. I like to capture more rather than fewer words because people both like and need to see their comments recorded. I really try to avoid adding any words that the person didn’t say – it’s hard, but a good practice.