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Welcome to Facilitation Stories, where we discover how facilitators ended up in the profession, and how facilitation methods, principles and techniques are used more widely. Brought to you by IAF England and Wales. For more information on our chapter, click here.

Oct 11, 2022

For this episode, Pilar is joined by John Monks to talk about how to have a conversation with a client about whether your event or workshop should be in person or online.

John is a facilitator, and partner of Curve. He coaches CEOs, and has digested his practice of many years into the book Closer Apart: How to Design and Facilitate Brilliant Workshops Online, which he's co-written with Lizzie Shupak.

John’s always been passionate about helping people connect with each other in order to collaborate and solve problems, and this drives much of his work.  Through facilitation and training facilitators, he looks for “where the edges are” and new ways of helping people to collaborate. Using technology is part of looking at new ways of working. 

John started as a consultant - freelancing and in a large firm, where there were many opportunities to develop his skills in how to run meetings and help people collaborate. In parallel, he trained as an exec coach, helping people to come up with new solutions. 

His pivotal moment in his career was attending a course at the THNK School of Creative Leadership – 

The whole syllabus was delivered through workshops and coaching. It’s the first time he realised that facilitation could be at the heart of a process and that there were ways in which you could become better at it. Following this, he trained as a team coach - helping individuals develop together as a team can be very powerful. 

John founded Curve with Lizzie Shupak in 2017, to train people to facilitate - he found the right partner for the right need in marketing and advertising agencies, another sector John worked in. 

Much of the coaching through Curve for the beginning was done online (e.g. via Skype) as they were working with global clients and teams. At the same time, they were observing the disruption and fatigue that having to travel across the world to attend workshops  caused individuals. 

To investigate how to do this differently, they created the Remote Workshop in 2018, to help individuals and organisations save carbon and save money. Surely everyone would be ready to jump on it? Well, no. Nobody wanted it. 

But by 2020, everybody wanted it.

It was great to be able to show people what was possible in the online space.  

The evolution of people’s comfort with technology has changed a lot since 2019, and even those who said they were “tech dinosaurs” became very adaptable online. This has allowed John to try new things. He’s also more aware that there is an expectation of having high production values when you are speaking online. And, he’s curious to see what facilitation in true virtual reality will look like…

Back to the present, now 2022, when in person workshops have come back. John finds that how much clients want to stay online varies  - due to company culture, individual preferences and the experience they’ve had online with workshops.  He’s found that many people have kept their workshops online.

John refers to the Fast Company article "This strategy can impact an entire organization" which highlights that Virtual training sessions seem to be more effective than in person workshops. 

John reckons this is to do with the attention you get when the workshop is online (and we’re talking about well-designed courses), people feel more present. There could also be something around the flexibility of attending an online course, as there’s no travel involved. (These are John’s guesses, based on his experience - but do let us know if you have any other thoughts/facts about why this might be happening, and if this is your experience.)

Why do we run workshops? John puts his answer in four buckets:

We run workshops to (1) learn and to (2) create/build something new, and the online space gives us the benefit of accessing people from different locations. It’s also easier to access digital tools to help with idea creation etc if you are behind a computer, than if you are in a room together. John believes human beings can be just as creative in the online space, if not more, because we can access more diversity. 

John reckons that the reason why we hear so much that people are more creative when they are co-located points to the third bucket, which is to (3) build teams (building trust and connection). But John knows this can also be done online - “everything you can do in person, you can do online”. The assumption that there are some things you can only do in person comes from limiting beliefs that haven’t been challenged, or because these are not things that have been experienced directly. But John is not discounting the joy that comes from being physically together with others.

Which brings him to bucket (4) building human connections, which is easier to do in the colocated (physically together) space, which removes much of the friction.  

We need to be specific about why we want to choose one medium over another - it’s not all about being more “creative”, it could be about feeling physically closer to each other, and using all (or most of!) our five senses together. 


When looking at team-away days, John’s final question of the brief with a client is “What’s the one thing you want to achieve through this workshop?”

If the answer is “team cohesion”, then John suggests they do the work together online first, then get together physically and focus the sessions on trust building, empathy, etc. (He covers this in the book too!)

With all the options available to clients now, John finds about 50% of people will prefer to run workshops online - even those where team members are in the same geographical location, as some now have different schedules - practically, it’s becoming more difficult to get people together in the same physical space, at the same time.

John suggests that training is done online, for co-creation, he suggests 1) online 2) in same physical space 3) hybrid. 

John does most facilitation in real-time and uses asynchronous processes when there is benefit to having some work done ahead of the event.

Now, why did John write a book? 

During lockdown, his company was inundated with requests, as there are many professions where bringing people to create together is at the core of their work. The only way to help everyone who needed help was to write a book. Their main challenge was to make the book feel as much as a workshop as possible. 

The team managed to come up with a format to the book which encourages people to go through the material, reflect and put it into action, as well as giving them supporting materials. John realises that his way of writing this book had nothing to do with all the writing methods he was coming across. He worked with a fantastic coach, who helped him and Lizzie to map out the journey of the reader. Then John locked himself away in a hotel room and wrote for a weekend. He did this three times. 

There is now an online course available called Facilitating Workshops Online. It’s a self-paced course for Facilitators, and anyone who needs to facilitate a workshop every now and then.

We have a heavy discount for listeners! Please use the code facilitationstories with this link: 

If you have any insights to share about running your own workshops, do get in touch with John through his website: (and if you want to know what the .cc stands for, make sure you have a listen!) 

You can find John on LinkedIn

And Pilar would love to connect with you on Twitter @PilarOrti

You can follow the podcast through @Fac_Stories on Twitter.