Online facilitator and polyglot René Nauheimer on how to set up a creative group process for success, and how the same techniques help with learning multiple languages
Connect with Rene at https://twitter.com/renaui
Find out more about Superlearning at https://superlearners.traverse.link/.
Hello, and welcome to another episode of the super learner podcast. Today. I'm joined by René Nauheimer. Rene is an online founder of a facilitator school and a polyglot as well. So welcome Rene.
Hey, thanks so much, pleasure to be here.
Yeah, great being here. So we actually met on Quinn's course on a online facilitation, and I think your background is also on online facilitation. So how did you get into that?
Online facilitation was actually a very interesting journey. It didn't start online at all. It started through physical facilitation and the path has been a bit through studies actually back in the study time in Germany, I started in the city called Aachen and I met my co-founder Daniel.
Yeah. I just want to say I studied there as well.
I studied at the fr so the applied sciences. Yeah. And funny though. So we have more in common. But I met Danielle in the early days of the studies and we kind of connected early on and have been trying multiple projects together. And I've been actually practicing a lot other than studying. So we've been working and making stuff outside of studies. And one of the things we came into was web design and building stuff for clients. And we noticed that this path wasn't always the most efficient one, especially we would ship something to clients and clients would be coming back with us in feedback loops and actually we we're like running these feedback loops at times. And at some point we came across something which is called the design sprint, which is a, basically a five day recipe to go from idea to test it solution and to get the feedback from the client, like very early on. And this was a way for us to actually integrate a client in the work that we were doing, which which is really nice because that way we save tons of feedback loops and we enjoy the process a lot.
But what we didn't think about was the facilitation of this workshop, where the client was in. What we were doing were basically facilitation without knowing that we were facilitating. And that was kind of the first step where we got into it. And then we were asked to not only do design sprints, but also facilitate workshops for example, and do more custom workshops.
And that was slowly how we saw that. Yeah, this felt really good. It was super productive. The results were also there. And we noticed at some point, Hey, it's maybe not just about the framework, but about the person who also leads the process and this whole frame around. Okay. How does the group actually come together?
And this led us then to discover the world of facilitation a bit more and With the pandemic after lots of workshops given in physical environments, this moved in the digital direction. And there was also a bit the kickoff of the facilitator school. So what we do now.
That's awesome. That's very interesting. So you said you started facilitating around web design and so the facilitation that you do now. Is it still mostly in a professional setting or like what are you helping people learn in your facilitation?
So what we actually do nowadays is a bit of a two-street way because we're on one site enrolled in the facilitation of collaboration. So it's not actually learning but more okay, how does the group come together in order to produce something? Like in a workshop, for example that is more results driven in a sense that they want to accomplish something in that session with us.
So we guide them And so the other side is more learning. Facilitation is what we do in our course, because we actually also teach what facilitation is and how you can use it in the in your organization's environment. And that is then basically the learning facilitation itself. So we're kind of doing both nowadays.
Nice. And yeah. So in this journey to learn facilitation, I guess, both first offline and then online, what has been your own main struggle? Like what was the most difficult thing to learn or the base insight that you gained
in facilitation itself? Like when facilitating
Yeah about learning this skill?
Yeah, I think for me it was to see how, I mean, it's a cliche, but the better that I felt at the moment I entered the group session the better, the whole thing would go. So basically I think the better, the preparation the better the session would go.
And also the better I would be able to deal with various spontaneous problems or issues for exam which would give me a lot of peace of mind. So I think that there was a main insight I got, I didn't have to get so much better but just by focusing a lot of attention on being really well prepared when I came in, like everything the structure set, my facilitation cheat sheet, ready, I call it CT, but it's basically just the bullet points and the directions I want to follow made it much easier for me to have like one solid ground ready and then being able to adapt from that if there's need in the group and at the same time, be present with what's coming.
Nice. Yeah. So you mentioned the cheat sheets. And I think a lot of people really like having checklists or something for these kinds of events? So how did you come up with the cheat sheet? Is that something you slowly build out of your experience or there any major frameworks that you use.
The cheat sheet is something that developed, I think very loosely, it usually when facilitating events or workshops. I would have my notes page in Roam. I would have opened it up my bullet points for the event ready on things I want to talk tackle upon sometimes even things I want to say for sure.
For example I don't know, this is an open mic session. Feel free to go to Mike and the camera on blah, blah, blah. To actually invite people to participate more. And I would like to have these things ready so that I don't have to improvise everything. And I think over the time that the cheat sheet actually developed into something that I would do every time.
So I would just create it every time. But last time for the first time we actually standardized it. So that it's now something that we can use for multiple sessions and over and over again. But it's definitely something that I rely heavily on. And what I also love about, for example, virtual facilitation, because I can have the screen open.
I can be talking to you for example now, but I could have also have my cheat sheet here. And it would be better to just keep the structure in mind, keep the time in mind and just to remind me of these things that would easily slip my mind.
Yeah, definitely. And so if you were to do an offline facilitation session do you have all of the points of the cheat sheet in your head or is that because those become more loose, more improvised?
I haven't used it in the new one. I haven't used the new one in a physical environment yet, but I know that from last physical sessions, there was always a checklist, so we just have it on the table, for example, and make sure that you're on a good path. And before introducing an exercise, I would probably also take some notes on a checklist.
So the checklist would be kind of a mess, a bit was be structured. But then I also write with a pen around it to see where can still fit in things that I want to say.
Right. And so on the checklist Like, does that actually connect with the main principles that you use in facilitation to help others to learn? Or is that something which is almost which have to intuitively rather than something you can write out?
That's a good question. I think it is possible to use the checklist once and combine it for multiple sessions, especially if it's a checklist for example, what to do before a virtual workshop, because there are multiple things we follow, right? So how can we invite participants best, make sure that there are no technical problems, because there are some things which will repeat themselves over and over.
Someone would have problems with entering the call or if we work on a digital whiteboard for example.. Yeah, it could be the case that a company has a firewall blocking the whiteboard from appearing on the screen. And that is something we can with good preparation, make sure that it's not happening.
So yeah I think the checklist can be used over multiple contexts. If it's, for example, fitted to how to work together, virtually what to do before with virtual workshop. If it's more around specific framework, like design sprint, for example, then it gets more difficult. And I think it's difficult to apply it to every workshop.
Right? So like in the case of a design sprint, what are the main guidelines of principles to facilitate a design sprint in such a way that people are most productive.
Yeah, it's funny that you say it because the design sprint is actually built on some of these principles. So that principles that we tell the participants that they get to form the right mindset for the design.
But for example, one is getting started as more important than being right. Because one of the things that comes over and over in a design sprint is also that in the beginning, especially quantity is more important than quality. Empty the mind and put things out. So these are like, there's a couple of principles in the design sprint.
And then there are some principles that we take with us as facilitators, right? So the things that we keep in mind and and I think one of the things that is super important for me is to look for the minority in the group. So to make sure if I have the opportunity, I would always take a one-on-one in the beginning to make sure that before I get into the room, I have actually seen the people already.
So that is kind of my golden treasure a bit. So I love to see the people upfront. I love to ask them what the expectations are. I also love to ask them what their hopes and fears are when they come into this group. Are there specific people they have problems working with, do they think that they might represent a minority in some case?
And if so, that is really important for me to know. So I think one main principle for me is letting the minority speak and making sure that the majority is listening.
Right. Yeah, I think that's important as well. And then yeah, I noticed you mentioned earlier Roam research and I'm sure there's lots of other online tools. Okay. Talk a bit about, about the tools you use in your facilitation and learning process as well.
Yeah. Good question. So I've been using Roam for quite a while now. But not for specific that I actually specifically chose it because I found it's the best tool. It's just because my co-founder Daniel is kind of the big wizard around tools and he always confronted me with new tools and then I'm like, okay, let me try this out. But nowadays it's also, I'm still in Roam, he's somewhere else already.
So he's kind of shifting also. And I just, yeah, stayed with Rome for now. Because I think it, it gives kind of peace of mind to be just in one place and prepare everything there. So what I like about it definitely is that it's super minimalistic and I can just wrap my thoughts down and I have these daily pages, which will give me a lot of freedom.
And at the same time I can still open my main lines of thought in a separate space, which with notes that are created before. So this is super helpful for me. Other than that. I don't use much for my thought process. Actually I think Roam is the main thing in my brain is in Roam at this moment, I would say because I also joined there and I just put a lot of what's on my mind in Roam, because you can also do time stamps and are judged too. For example, if I'm in the middle of preparing something, but there's another thought just running my mind and just want to get out there. And I just put it in a timestamp. It's 1143. Am I going to this? I might as welljust want to put it here and then I can refocus on a word.
Yeah, that makes sense. So I know you speak a lot of languages as well. I think Portuguese, German, Dutch but what other ones?
You know, yeah, you do mean when you told already a bit of French words a bit of Spanish and yeah, that's basically it.
So, how did you come to learn all those languages? Has that been like organic or have you deliberately chosen to move somewhere, to learn a language or how did that come about..
Yeah. So I think I got into languages a lot for two reasons. One reason is that my parents come from two different cultures. So my mom is Brazilian and my dad is German, which led me to learn these two languages from the ground up. And it also led me to confuse both languages. So I would sometimes travel to Brazil as a child for some vacation.
I would come back and I forgot some sentences in German. And then I wouldn't be able to really communicate.
That's interesting. I actually lived in the south of Brazil for a while in Santa Catarina, where there was actually a German subculture of German settlers in there. So I think that would be the perfect place for you maybe.
Yeah, maybe, I also heard about a city called Blooma now growing up. Yeah. It's super funny that they have this and yeah, but that was, I think one one of the reasons I kind of stepped into languages so early on, because I can, yeah. I saw these languages and I had to speak them within the family.
And the other reason is that I grew up at a point where almost three countries meet each other. So where I grew up next to Luxembourg on the German side though, and the French side is also not far. And because of that in the school and in the region, people put a lot of focus on learning French early on.
And because the job market is pretty attractive in Luxembourg. So I was confronted with French pretty early on, and I actually learned it before English. And my English was very shitty at school, so I kind of picked it up later during study time and yeah, but that's a bit how it developed.
Nice. And do you have any cause I know you'll learn some Dutch as well. So do you have any techniques that you use for using languages or is it, did you learn so early that you forgot all about that.
Yeah. I think for the first time that I took a more intentional approach to languages with Dutch because I moved to the Netherlands one and a half years ago. And by knowing that I would move, of course the language played a big role, but since I moved with a couple of friends and for the first time we're confronted, okay.
We moved to the new country. How are we going to be learn this new language? And I think it wasn't super technically, so we weren't learning it on a daily basis, but we started with multiple strategies. For example, Duolingo was like one at first time we were just then skimming incident and trying it out.
But then yeah, my success story with Duolingo is limited. And then we had a private teacher which taught us via zoom. And I think of this guy actually, and then there was I think the most effective one, because she was very strict in a way that you wouldn't speak English with us, or not much from the first moment on, we were basically immersed in Dutch and I had no idea what she was talking about, but it made us, it set the expectations high.
And at some point I think we got used to it. And I think we did it for a year or so the course once a week coming together with her and she would prepare something. And we also had homework and these very intimate setting of four people. It's just our group of friends read with this teacher.
It was really nice because we had a lot of practice time. Everyone had to speak. We sometimes as a homework to read journal articles and we would have to present them in a class. So that was kind of cool to, to learn it in that way.
And then I think at some point we noticed that we were learning more from living in the Netherlands than actually from the course. And that was a moment where we switched and we said, okay, maybe we don't need the course any more. Now we got the basics spoken. We still are not practicing to write very much.
We're putting a lot of focus on the spoken language. But yeah, at some point there was this transition moment.
Right. And so when you discovered that actually you were learning more by immersing yourself in actual like Dutch culture, I guess, did you become more deliberate about that as well? Like going to, I don't know, some Dutch events.
Yeah, for sure. I think for me the main thing I use to pick up the languages to listen to others while they speak. So I'm in the train or in a coffee or whenever, like listen to people around me, I will try to pick cues or sentences that they are saying.
And sometimes if I notice about it, I would also notice patterns about different groups, what they were talking about and different ways of saying something and the accent, for example, that I would try to embed that in my speaking as well, because sometimes I think being able to speak not a dialect, but some other way of speaking something or the language makes a big difference also.
And using some words can, can make a big difference in people. Thinking that you were from that country or that you're not even German.
Yeah. That's like the main goal, right? Like actually fooling them into thinking that you're a native.
Yeah. You managed it in what language?
I think I managed it in German quite well in Brazil was a bit more tricky, .
Yeah. But even in Brazil, there are these things that they say These words or the way of saying things that I think focusing on these one or 2% of the language that can make a big difference in lifting the other part of what you already know.
Yeah, exactly. Do you have some examples, just a, let's go through some of the examples for Portuguese, maybe.
In Brazil. Yeah. I was just thinking about it as well. So for example, if we would go for dinner, for example, and we were just getting ready at home. We could say Vamos in Bora, Bora Vamos is a very simple way to say it or the very usual way to say it, but you can also say just bora, which means that it's just a more casual way of saying let's go. And I think just embedding these casualities.
That is another problem, actually, the mixing of languages, I forgot some parts of driving or sometimes in German. I also, I know it's not that I forgot German, but it's sometimes that I would use Dutch words in German.
So how did you find that? Because German and Dutch are not too different. So was it more of a help or was it more of a distraction to mix them?
Yeah, that is a good question. I'm not sure yet. So it was definitely a help to learn Dutch that is for sure. The speed of learning a new language, I think helped us a lot by having German as a ground, because there are so many words that are the same. There are so many grandma elements that are similar, at least So I think learning that from the German point of view is much easier than learning it from aBrazilian point of view, for example.
So that plays a huge role. And to be honest, that is also how I learned all the other languages. For example, French I could learn easier because I had Portuguese, Spanish I could learn easier because I had Portuguese and even now in some languages, Dutch, which has kind of a cocktail of languages.
I have the feeling sometimes because you have English elements, French elements, German elements. It helps to distill a bit the essence, right. For example, cuddle is also a Dutch word, right?
Yeah. I had the same, like, I learned a little bit of Spanish and French as well, and yeah, with my Portuguese, it was quite easy to just kind of guess what the right word would be, and I could get away with it.
Yeah. How did you get you get to Brazil though? Oh, why Brazil?
I went there for exchange during university and then I stayed there to do it to an internship and my master thesis as well. Yeah, I initially, well, my uncle actually migrated to Brazil like 25 years ago as a farmer because he's like a farmer's son. So that's why my initial interest was third. And then I actually got a Brazilian girlfriend at that time as well. So then I thought, well, let's just go into graduate there.
Okay. Makes sense. Yeah. Fun time. I can imagine.
Yeah, it was really fun. It was great time. Yeah. So maybe tying that back to facilitation like, I feel if you learn multiple languages, you also kind of know multiple cultures, you understand a wider range of people. Did you have the same experience and does that help with facilitating different groups as well?
Yeah, for sure. I think one of the things I learned very early on is that basically the opposite of naive realism that a naive realism is basically the assumption that everyone sees the world as you do.
And, and I think. I learned very early on also because of growing up in between two cultures, that is not the case and how different it can be. Also for example, doing the same exercise, preparing for travels with the German families are different than preparing for travels with a Brazilian family, for example.
And I think just being okay with that and learning the ways people tackle things Was always very interesting to me. And I think I developed pretty early on the curiosity for this as well, and kind of an acceptance also, the acceptance of not of not wanting to change someone to behave in a certain way.
And I think in facilitation, the main task actually is to hear people as they are and accept them how they come. Because when there's a workshop. For example, multiple people come in and different people have different expectations about what to come out. And then we just don't listen really about what the intentions are, or we try to change them to go together, to run direction and make a decision.
And then that decision is made in probably it will not be a very long term where people won't act on that decision. So that, that can be a big problem. Right? You have a solution, but that was created with a lot of enthusiasm, but then it's not followed through. And I think in facilitation, what we can do is actually let people arrive as they are and make sure that they meet in a way that they also see each other without trying to press them in the same box.
Yeah. I think that's very important. And yeah, you mentioned a lot of times we resolved to do something and then don't actually follow through upon that, I think same as it's probably through a learning mode to learn lots of different things where we only have limited time we are busy. What have you found to work to actually follow through on something you resolve to, to learn or to accomplish?
Oh, that's a good one. So I think I'm really bad at discipline in general. At least, I think I can build up some willpower to do something, but I found that usually what I do is a product of my environment.
And I tried to embed that more into what I do because I just found it with discipline, I just wouldn't get through. For example, also with learning, I could just, yeah, learning Dutch now. I didn't do Duolingo for, I think, a week in a row or something because there was just one day where I didn't do it.
And I was like I didn't get that street shit, but but at the same time, once a week go into this call where I would be in a Dutch environment, people would speak Dutch that would help me because there's just no other chance for me than to actually learn the language. And I would also with many things I do so with sports as well.
I like to have the sport environment so that I don't have to motivate myself to go to sports. It's just something that is there. Where I know I enjoy the environment. So it's less about the thing that I want to do, but rather about having a circle of people who do the same. And I think that is also why, for example, the course with Green or the cohort based course with green was so nice.
It's just because there are so many people on the same path. And yeah, I just liked that for multiple things. For example, also have a reflection group where we meet, or we used to meet once a week now, its a bit less now but at the same time, it's just, I could do reflection on the last week on myself through the journaling, for example, but I really like to do it with a group because then we are together.
We kind of tell that story to another person and we kind of are in a way more reflective way and mood and to make it shorter, I really like just having a group of support in different areas of life.
Yeah. That's great. Like becoming conscious about your environment, actually shaping your environment so that it helps you accomplish what you want to accomplish. Yeah. So maybe finally, how do you see the role of tools or maybe like even growing awareness around facilitation? Like what needs to be done to help us make the most of all the information that's out there and actually learn from that.
Yeah. That's a big one. Cause nowadays, yeah, it is so much information, right. Our whole web is full and it's huge. I think what I like about this movement of cohort based courses at this point in time is there are so much information that is floating out there, but when there's a group of people coming together and it gets distilled from one source, which for example, it could be the facilitator.
Then I feel having that person who distills the knowledge in this case Quinn for us, for example really helps to focus on the essentials, right? Because a lot of what we see when you learn new things and read information, for example, I want to build muscle. Then I just go on the web, how to build muscle.
But often, It's not the first principle thinking that we see, it's rather the surface knowledge that we get. And I think facilitating learning, if I think about that, I would try as a facilitator to also keep that in mind. Okay. How can I follow through with first principle thinking, how can I make it as easy as possible for people as a beginner who like are in a very different mindset than me, for example, in that domain? Get started as cleanly and without noise.
Yeah. Actually, maybe one, one more followup on that. Like how can we distill the first principles in a given area and build the right mental models to become fluent in an area. Does it just require huge amounts of time or are there processes.
I'm not aware of process to follow there, but I think is just general reflection because we are like with head style. And so often in the work that we do, and I think just stopping and looking back and say, okay, the last things I facilitate, for example, what can I use?
And I don't do this very often. I should do it way more often, but I think what can I use, for example from here on that would probably pay off in the following sessions or in the future and trying to distill these essence from what I learned, because all of these learnings often based on kind of the same package of wisdom.
Right. And and so that is one thing I think, general reflection and also I'm a huge fan of group learning. So just putting a situation, a case which could be very noisy and very difficult for a group. And then doing that with them together. So what can we learn if we would set up a new session here?
So I would actually not come with a solution, but I would come with the question and then trying to make that process that you asked about together with the group and just following through.
Yeah. I love that. Yeah. I think we covered a lot of ground. So really what I always ask is who would like to see next on this podcast?
Oh, that's a lovely question. Have you had quinn already?
No, I haven't actually.
Okay. I think she would be super interesting to Jennifer. I can imagine that that is, that is a really interesting one. Otherwise there is one person in the Roam sphere I will leave or especially in note-taking sphere. . I will forward him to you.
I maybe had one podcast that one weekend.
Okay. Well really? Okay.
Yeah, that be really soon.
Okay. That, that is a bit of mind blowing to me. Okay. But then, then I think I have no one, additionally.
Yeah. Cool. All right. So thanks a lot, Rene. And if people want to reach out to you or find out more about you, what's the best way for them to do that?
LinkedIn in general, justRené Nauheimer, and you'll find me there. And everything I do for facilitator school is there and also a right for myself, but that can also be found there.
Awesome. Excellent. So thanks a lot, Renee.
Hey, thanks for your time.