The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Kill Them With Honesty …
January 21, 2020, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Advertising, Agency Culture, Attitude & Aptitude

One thing I hate are workshops that start with the moderator saying,

“Let’s all tell each other something unique about yourself?”

It might not be exactly that, but it is some equally inane statement.

Look, I get it … it’s an attempt to get the group to bond by revealing a vulnerability about yourself, but the reality is it ends up being an ego fest or some massive humble brag.

Occasionally you get someone who misreads the room and responds with a statement so embarrassing that the room drops 10 degrees in the blink of an eye, but more usually, it’s an endless stream of people trying to be humble, humorous or bigging themselves up.

For years I’ve answered this question with the contempt it deserves.

A while back a friend asked if I could attend a meeting because he wanted my involvement in a project he was part of. I was happy to do that until the moderator asked us all, “What’s your go-to karaoke song?”.

I’m not joking. They really asked that … to which I was subjected to a stream of people awkwardly revealing their lack of musical taste to which we had the rest of the audience clapping wildly with each announcement.

When it came to me, I answered with ‘Killing in the Name Of by Rage Against The Machine’.


Pin drop.

Awkward, nervous laughter before someone asked me why that song?.

I replied, “Because I love singing, ‘Fuck you, I won’t do as you tell me”.


Pin drop.

End of the introductions.

Anyway, recently my friend if I would attend another workshop. Because I’m a glutton for punishment and he promised it was a different moderator, I said yes.

So I go there and within the first 5 minutes we were asked to write down ‘who our most important relationships are with and why?’ on a piece of paper to which they would be collated and then they’d be picked out of a hat and read to the audience for them to guess who wrote it.

OK, so it is less inane than revealing your favourite TV show as a kid or your favourite breakfast cereal, but it’s still rubbish and – quite frankly – none of anyone’s business.

Why should my personal life be used for breaking the ice with others?

I’m all for sharing openly, but not for the benefit of a moderator.

So I wrote down my answer.

It’s the picture at the top of the page.

Suffice to say, people quickly understood my goal was to get to great work rather than agreeable and cosy outcomes … something the great Richard Huntingdon rightfully said, was the opposite of what most workshops are about.

30 Comments so far
Leave a comment

It’s nice to see flashes of the old Robert Campbell are still in there. Especially when your poison isn’t being shot at me. I agree with you. The mundanity of moderator mediocrity achieves the opposite of their what they are their to achieve with the attendees. Unless the attendees are of a similar quality to the moderator.

Comment by George

I’m a big believer in workshops. I also agree that involving people who are not normally part of the decision making process can be a good thing – and they often need to be looked after because it can be daunting for some of them. But I hate it when a workshop is just like an office outing – more bonding exercise than coming together to move forward by changing or making something. And that’s why I hate those moderators who set the tone of the workshop as “this is all about happy agreement” rather than honesty, standards and strategy.

Comment by Rob

It’s funny today is Martin Luther King day here and you think your civil rights are being attacked by workshop moderators.

Comment by Bazza

Thanks for making me feel a bigger prick than I normally do Baz.

Comment by Rob

Too many organisations mistake group contentment for good leadership. I may not agree with how you choose to deal with it but I do approve you act on it.

Comment by Lee Hill

I know. Jill said a similar thing.
But it’s still more mature than I used to be. Not an excuse for my behaviour – but then either is treating grown adults as 5 year olds.

Comment by Rob

Given your response, I would question how mature you think you have become.

Comment by Lee Hill

Can’t argue with that.

Comment by Rob

Lee FTW.

Comment by Bazza

he deserves to be kicked a lot fucking harder lee, but its a start.

Comment by andy@cynic

I love how supportive you all are of me. Ahem.

Comment by Rob

I can see what it says. What does it say?

Comment by Marcus

Is my handwriting that bad?

It says:

There’s 3 types of people in this world.
Those I hate.
Those I tolerate.
Those I love.

Comment by Rob

No. It’s annoyingly pretty. This picture is just so small.

Comment by Marcus

unlike the rest of him.

Comment by andy@cynic

The only thing I liked about attending workshops when we were at cynic was seeing how Rob acted and reacted in them.

Comment by Bazza

I’m only happy when I’m annoyed. Ha.

Comment by Rob

for a prick who gets annoyed that people with musical taste fucking hate queen you must be happy all the fucking time.

Comment by andy@cynic

Breaking the ice exercises are for sheep.

Comment by John

Oh dear, putting myself out there because I really respect you and the work you are connected to. I have left agency land to spend more time doing what i love which is workshop facilitation (and coaching how to avoid being a slave to the white board) I would say I am pretty good at it. But – i am so so guilty of starting off with a frivolous question. I like to connect the frivolity to the problem we are solving in some way. But i certainly want to avoid putting people off that in doing so i am just after cosy and agreeable outcomes. I would like to use this forum to better myself and ask you Rob (and friends), in your experiences of the good the bad the ugly and the frustrating – what has worked? what has got you and the group “in” while also warming up the group? Thanks so much

Comment by nicola

Do you cringe when speakers throw away the most important part of their talk by asking how the audience is doing? That’s how people react in workshops. Just dive straight in. Moderators should be improvisers, not scriptwriters.

Comment by John

thanks john

Comment by nicola

youre fucking brave. be like that in your workshops not some wet fuck who is desperate to be friends with everyone. and never fucking ever respect campbell.

Comment by andy@cynic

thanks andy

Comment by nicola

Hello Nicola. Given you would have every right to call me a prick and explain why it is important to approach workshop collaboration using a ‘break the ice’ strategy, you are being very kind to me.

I suppose my issue with the nature of opening questions by bad moderators [of which I would guess you are not one, demonstrated by you inviting this commentary] is that rather than build attendee bonds, it starts off the workshop with a tone of frivolity … often resulting in people undermining the potential for sharp, pointed ideas/thinking by believing its all a game and anything goes.

Of course I get that there is a need to allow people to feel they are in a safe place to express their thoughts … but when it results in people thinking they can express anything they want to say rather than anything they believe is important, you end up in a situation where these is a lot said, but not much revealed.

By all means tell me I’m a prick, but for me … I want the people there to feel excited about being able to create change rather than act almost like it’s a day out to play.

But as some have said on here about me, I can be an asshole and maybe this shows they’re right.

Comment by Rob

Thanks for your reply rob. I think workshops are great when there is a mix of people (not serial workshop hoppers, which are not very useful) – which is why the “strategy” team shouldn’t be the b-all and end-all of sessions.

The thing is – (i should imagine) you’re good at being able to tap in to all of your brain, some people aren’t. They spend most of their time functioning in one mode, so i think there is absolute merit and credit in forcing people to step out of that. And what might be gimmicky and undermining to you, works for others.

As a moderator i don’t want to alienate people. I don’t need people to like me but i want people to respect me and be guided by me, not waste my time having to get people out of their own stubborn arse and detract from the job i am trying to do well.

I am going to avoid this style though as a bit of an experiment – and see how it changes the dynamic and output. Thanks again for being constructive.

Comment by nicola

And thanks for commenting and chatting.

It’s rare on here. Ha.

Would love to know how you go.

Comment by Rob

fuck you campbell.

Comment by andy@cynic

fuck you i wont do as you tell me.

story of your fucking life.

Comment by andy@cynic

You’re welcome.

Comment by Rob

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