A Radiolab Lesson in Facilitation

Working for Floricane, you hear a lot about facilitation. You hear a lot about how to engage people, how to lead an interactive conversation, and how to actively arrive somewhere new. I've seen this process at work through the InSights program, the RIC/RVA history series, and in most every conversation I have with John. I was impressed, however, to see it hard at work in a recent lecture given by Jad Abumrad, co-host of the popular NPR radio show and podcast, Radiolab.

Monday night, Abumrad spoke before a packed house at the VCU Common's Theater. He was invited as the keynote speaker for VCU 's Student Research Week, which runs through this Friday.

If you're not familiar with Abumrad's work at Radiolab, you're most certainly missing out. As best described by the show's website: "Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience." And while this description concisely captures the gist of the show, the experience you receive from each episode is unmatched. Often one finds themselves at once questioning all they've ever known, while finding validation for all their hearts have known to be true. Therefore, it was with avid fan-ship that I was brought to a fourth row seat.

And so it began. Like many seasoned speakers, Jad started things off with that "a-little-about-me" download with which we're all familiar. The thematic element of Jad's introduction centered around the idea of tension. Specifically, Abumrad described the tension he experience in his mid-twenties in which he wrestled with a life-long dream of becoming a musician, and his alternative interest for being a writer. He described his vacillation, noting that when one pursuit would seem to fail he'd turn hurriedly to the other, and then back again. His final resting place, as it turned out, finds him sitting with the tension between those two worlds, neither wholly writer nor musician, but a balance of both.

Abumrad's talk moved forward with an enjoyable journey through clips of old Radiolab episodes and his reflections on the lessons learned from each curious investigation. Yet, as we traveled along this journey there was a mounting expectation for release, that in the description of these beautiful stories there would be revealed some over arching lesson, some comfortable teddy bear of an idea with which to go home and snuggle. However, that moment never arrived, and it wasn't clear why until his talk concluded and the floor opened for questions.

As Abumrad happily and humbly entertained the audience's Radiolab quandaries, he soon had the opportunity to answer what the show's goal had become, and for what purpose the show existed. His answer came without thought: "I just want to lead people to moments of wonder."

The thing about facilitation is that the way you deliver your message should embody that very message. Abumrad did exactly that. The tension it was his life goal to embody was what he gave his audience, bringing us brilliant stories, and leading us to the edge of the ocean, allowing us to gaze at its awe together; all questions unanswered, and conclusions left for another day.