I ventured into the latest edition of weekend testing americas in a different role that than I normally fill. This time it was as a facilitator, and a first time facilitator at that. Since this was my first time I learned a few important lessons and owe some gratitude to JeanAnn and Michael.

JeanAnn spent time with me refining my session idea into a practical skill development session. Over the span of a few days and some (many) emails, JeanAnn helped me expand a basic idea into the outline that we based the entire session on. She was a great help.

Michael gave me the opportunity to facilitate a community event that he normally facilitates. I have a feeling he used some boy scout-ish leadership methods.

Anyway, on to the experience report!

I broke the session into a few segments for a couple reasons: this is how I have experienced weekend testing in the past, and thinking about a few attributes of usability created a fairly tidy way to divide the session up. I had some preconceived notions of how I could break up the time for each segment. My plan was to prompt for a topic, learnability for example, give attendees 10 minutes or so to work in the software and then round everyone up to discuss their testing and what was learned. I more or less did this and might do it differently next time. My concern was getting through what I had planned for the session in a reasonable amount of time but this didn’t really allow for much think time.

In hindsight I would have followed the energy of the group a little more. Though, this is difficult. It can be hard to tell when a lull in the conversation means people are thinking or people are ready to move on. I think this may be a little easier to manage with a slightly larger group that we had.

Some of the main ways I found myself adding to the session were in asking clarifying questions. I think it is important to be able to clearly express ideas so asking questions around ambiguous words and phrases as well as asking people to discuss some word or phrase to come to a shared meaning was a big aspect of this session. You’ll see examples of this in transcript when we got to the topic of efficiency. I wish I had done this exercise purposefully with each topic before beginning the hands on part, but alas. I was able to use lessons from my coaching session with Ann Marie around the socratic method as a way to encourage critical thinking.

Facilitating, like anything else, is a skill that must be practiced to be developed. I’m looking forward to future possibilities to do that.

A full transcript of the session can be found here.