Heather Martinez

How To Lead Inspiring Meetings With Appreciative Inquiry (Ai) With Heather Martinez

Are you struggling to get your team to be more engaged in your meetings? If you have tried anything and nothing still works, maybe it’s time to try Appreciative Inquiry! In this episode, Heather Martinez shares how she leads inspired meetings using this very concept. She explains how it can help your team get unstuck from the negative cycle of meetings and encourage healthy discussions where all questions are entertained. Learn how Appreciate Inquiry can help in determining problems before they worsen and discover the best approaches in solving them. Time to get your team moving and gain the most out of every single meeting by tuning in to this episode!

How To Lead Inspiring Meetings With Appreciative Inquiry (Ai) With Heather Martinez

We have a special guest, Heather Martinez, which is going to be talking to us about leading inspired meetings with Appreciative Inquiry. There is a lot to learn there. Many people out there have not heard of Appreciative Inquiry before. We’re going to enlighten you and Heather is going to tell us all about how important it is to drive those effective meetings.

A little bit about the show, we’re here to elevate the practice of talent practices and people’s strategy to encourage leaders out there to develop better organizations where people can be happier. When people are happy, they create better work. It also creates happier clients and customers. it’s important to help create those environments that cause people to thrive.

We’re joined by a series of hosts here. We have Howard Nizewitz, who is a systems and rewards expert. We have Sumit Singla from India, who is a People Strategist. He has worked in a lot of large consulting companies. He has his own practice in India. We’re fortunate to be able to leverage his skills here at CompTeam as well. Thank you, Sumit.

We also have Char Miller. She is a serial entrepreneur and global traveler. She’s in Mexico right now and enjoying the sun. She’s also in small business coaching and career development and coaching for people. She’s an expert on that. Also, we have Wendy Graham who is a great trainer. She is a TMA Expert and Practitioner. She does a lot of things that help me out like in marketing and so forth. I appreciate Wendy. She brings in some great speakers here on the show, and that includes Heather herself.

Welcome, Heather. It’s a pleasure to have you here. You come with a great deal of experience. You started working at Korn Ferry in 2011 as a visual practitioner and became a co-founder at a startup in DC a couple of years ago. Now, you have expanded your own practice. I love to hear about your journey there.

I am inspired because I have a daughter that loves art. She’s been told by a number of her aging grandparents that, “You can’t make any money in art,” and all this stuff. I’m getting ready to challenge the assumption that there are plenty of career opportunities out there for people that use that special part of their brain to enlighten us all and create beauty on this planet. Please tell me about your journey and how you started out and how you got to where you are now.

Thank you for saying that because I love to be an advocate for the arts. I wear a lot of hats as you know. You’re going to see some of those hats come up as I talk about my journey. One of them is also an art coach. I’d love to speak with your daughter about how to make that happen and make that dream come true. I started out with an art major, and I went to a business school because my father wanted me to learn about business.

I was majoring in business and then I took a couple of art classes. I took enough classes to be a dual major, except I had to choose between having a Bachelor of Science or a Bachelor of Arts. I couldn’t decide, but I was one credit away from being an art major so I went ahead and went with the Bachelor of Arts, but I have enough business classes under me to also have a Bachelor in Business Administration.

I started out that way. I then left college and decided I was never going to take a job that wasn’t art related. I became a graphic designer and worked in some print shops. I landed a job in Durango, Colorado at Korn Ferry as a graphic specialist. That was my first corporate job. I felt like a desk jockey. I was stuck to my desk. I was doing all of these visuals. I wanted to be in the room where important decisions were happening. I would see people all go into the room, come out, and then they would give me something to make a visual that described what happened in the room. I thought, “Why don’t you just let me in the room?”

Sometime later, I heard someone in a nearby cubicle say, “We hired a graphic recorder to come in and write down what we were saying and it helped us with our change management initiative.” I said, “That’s what I want.” I googled graphic recording. I found Christina Merkley online. She was writing out her visual history and I immediately signed up for every class I could get. At that point, I was in a place where I wanted some change and to go to grad school. I decided to take all that money that I was saving for grad school and invested in myself to become a visual practitioner or graphic recorder.

I then had a dream that I wanted a team of people. I put together a proposal and I sent it to two different companies. One on the East Coast and one on the West Coast. The one on the East Coast accepted it. I went to Washington, DC to help build the visioneering team. I was one of the founding members. I’m the art director and also the scrum master. I can put on my hat when it comes to software development as well.

At that time, I was doing graphic recording, but I quickly had to jump into facilitation. It’s not what I had planned and wanted. I wanted to be the silent partner in the room drawing pictures and writing words. All of a sudden, I was in the position to be a facilitator and I thought I need a modality. Appreciative Inquiry was something that I had been reading about. I finally got to study at The Center for Appreciative Inquiry to become a certified AI facilitator. That brings us to somewhat now. That was a few years ago.

Can we dive in a little bit more about what it is to be a graphic recorder and how it helps engagement in these sessions?

One of my hats is that visual practitioner. The graphic recording has changed since I started. Since I started, there were a few schools out there that were teaching philosophy. Now, a lot of illustrators have penetrated the market, and so the outcomes are very different, depending on the recorder that you hire. Do you hire someone to capture what was said so that it can be put on social media or used for internal branding? Are you working with a graphic facilitator who holds the facilitative process and can create visuals that support that process so that you can reach the desired outcomes or the purpose of the meeting?

If you can imagine being in a conference room or at a conference, graphic recorders and visual practitioners can show up anywhere. They usually are either working digitally with their work displayed on a big screen or projected, or they could be working on big pieces of paper. Maybe imagine a 4×8 sheet of paper that gets filled up in an hour with either a presentation or a facilitated conversation.

Is it used in a smaller scale aspect where leaders can use facilitate meetings with that type of approach?

Yes. I’ve done everything from TED Talks to working one-to-one with directors of agencies. We’re planning out what a certain offsite is going to look like and who’s going to be facilitating different sections of it, and then what visuals will support that. Sometimes it’s straight graphic recording, so people write down what’s happening with pictures in a way that can be mnemonic or remembered, and used as a change management tool.

Other times, we have to have a hard conversation. We might use techniques like speaking through me or ways to get people to talk about it. We then have to be very careful about what’s written down so that there’s no attribution, but at the same time, people feel like they were being heard. It can be used in literally every circumstance. I’ve used it in any scenario with any size group.

Could you tell us a little bit more about how you’ve used your talents and developed that Tech Host Academy and how you help others?

The visuals got me into the meeting. The facilitation got me to help lead the meetings. When the pandemic hit, we were all shifting to working online. I had been teaching online for a couple of years already training folks. It was a very natural position for me to help people. What I was noticing is I would sit in a meeting and if I were an attendee, I would start taking notes about how I would make this meeting better. I then wrote a twenty-page playbook on what to do before, during, and after a meeting to make it a better meeting. I then went, “This is called tech hosting.” I asked around and people were like, “Tech hosting or tech producing,” whatever.

I started talking to different tech hosts. A lot of them would say they were just tech hosts because they didn’t have a lot of equipment. They didn’t show producers. I started to delineate for myself what that meant and started a class, I call it Tech Host Academy, where I train people whether they are helping a small creative group, working from home, working on hybrid teams, or if they want to train up to become a team of tech hosts to deliver at conferences, which I’ve done that too.

I’ve trained people to get to that point. For me, the basis of everything I do from graphic recording, facilitation, teaching, training, and tech hosting is based on Appreciative Inquiry. Using the Appreciative Inquiry framework, I created a whole course around tech hosting so that we focused on the engaging efficiency and equitable parts of meetings.

PSF 58 | Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry: The Appreciative Inquiry framework allows teams to focus more on the equitable parts of meetings and engage efficiency.


Let’s talk a little bit more about that. A lot of people out there are wondering what Appreciative Inquiry is. Can you tell us a little bit about that theory and practice?

I have a graphic because I’m a visual person. The first graphic that I drew before I became a facilitator is called the 4D Process. It has changed. It’s now the 5D Process, but Discover, Dream, Design, and Deliver. This was a template that I would use and I still use to this day in my discovery meetings with clients. I’ll go through the 5D Process so that everyone can get familiar with it and there are some fun quotes.

The first two are Define and Discover. I put them together. The first one is Define. What is the purpose of this meeting? What are we trying to do in the session or in this particular project? What are the basics? What’s the vision, mission, and purpose of the organization, the people that are going to be involved, and all the basic information?

We then have a Discovery meeting. In the discovery meeting, this is where we learn about the skills and the strengths of the organization or the individuals so that we can build on those to do what’s next, which is the Dream phase. The Dream phase might sound a little out there, but it’s about creating a vision. Imagine what we could create if we were to build on all of the strengths and the skillsets of the people that are involved.

The next phase is my favorite and that’s the Design phase. This is where we take all of the pieces that we know about, the purpose, the people, and what it is we want to create. Let’s design a meeting, a summit, or a long project based on those requirements so that we can meet that desired outcome. That Dream phase is where we get that desired outcome.

After that comes what they call either the Destiny phase, which goes along with the Dream phase or the Delivery phase. How are we going to deliver this so that we meet our purpose and it’s effective? I love this quote by David Cooperrider, “We need to discover the root causes of success rather than the root causes of failure.”

We need to discover the root causes of success rather than the root causes of failure. Share on X

Appreciative Inquiry doesn’t look at problems because David Cooperrider, one of the cofounders, believes that we live in the world of the questions that we ask. If we ask what’s the problem, then we’re just going to have a bunch of problems. This is a huge paradigm shift, especially when working with analysts, architects, and software developers. I spent three years in Washington, DC working with these people doing Appreciative Inquiry. I had to do a lot of Gorilla Appreciative Inquiry in order to get things done, but that’s essentially the 5D process of Appreciative Inquiry.

I love that. We do a lot of work with the TMA method, which is based on positive psychology. One of the similarities that you mentioned is those things that we focus on are those things that grow. If we focus on the negative side of things, then we bring negativity into the system. Focusing on those positive pieces is a way to grow things in a positive and robust way.

I want to back up a bit. I want to understand more about how you came up with the use, and you want to focus on the Appreciative Inquiry framework. Let’s go back to the beginning of the pandemic when we started seeing some people being forced into the remote environment and not knowing how to run effective meetings. What were some of the problems that you were trying to solve at that time?

Technology was the first big hurdle as not everybody has the same internet speed. Not everybody has the same equipment to use. They also don’t have a dedicated space for working. It was chaos. There were some people that were trapped in their homes with people all around them. Everything was happening. That’s one thing that none of us could control, but there were some things that we could influence and have control over, at least try to make some changes in that process. What I was finding is that either there was a lot of chaos like people were not staying muted to have nice clean recordings, or people were staying muted and not speaking and not being engaged.

I was also contracting with other companies and asking clients what do they want out of their meetings. Most bosses were saying, “I want them to be productive.” That was the word. If they talked for a little while, productive always came up or it was the first thing that they said. That’s great, but how do you measure that? I was thinking, “How does that get measured?”

For a boss or a decision-maker, the way that it got measured is how far they are getting their project along or what’s the income. There are all these metrics that can be measured around it, but then I thought there’s the personal piece, and how easy is it to come onto whether you’re on a webinar like this or watching a video and multitasking. I thought in order to get people productive, they need to be engaged. There has to be efficiency around the technology and how they work together. There has to be equity in order to do that.

PSF 58 | Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry: In order to get people productive, they need to be engaged. There has to be efficiency around the technology and how they work together.


There’s something special that comes out of that. When you have that participation and engagement, and you mix that with learning, that’s where the equity comes in. People have the same information to work with. You combine that learning with productivity, that’s where it becomes efficient. When you combine that productivity with participation and engagement, this is where the culture can thrive. People can build trust. They can contribute and collaborate.

I like to share this particular graphic because when I was sharing with clients who wanted to hire me, they would say, “How are you going to do that?” I would show them that Venn diagram and they’re like, “Yes, I want all of that.” That’s how I broke it down in order to be able to make my services where people were like, “How do we even measure what you do? How to make it?” They would want to hire me and bring me into the meetings to help with those things.

It’s a huge passion of Sumit’s as far as diversity and inclusion and making sure that people have a voice. Sumit, in your experience, what are the problems that you see out there in getting people to be included in meetings and have equal opportunity?

Remote work has changed a lot of this narrative. In a remote environment, it is easy to ignore people who are not appearing on your screen because they’re not talking. It can often become a cycle where you see 2 or 3 vocal people on your screen. You keep talking to them and including them leading to the cycle of exclusion going on perpetually.

Leaders need to show more intent in including people. If they’re calling themselves allies or inclusion advocates, it’s their responsibility as well to highlight the people on the team. For example, if somebody on this call is not visible or not talking, someone should say, “I believe this person might have some great ideas on this,” and put them on the spot to bring them into the conversation. That’s something that needs to happen more often, and it’s a very unique virtual world challenge that’s popping up.

This came up with a client that I’m working with where they have a lot more people that need to think in order to speak first versus more extroverted folks who are happy to talk it out. The client was asking me, “How do I get those folks more engaged?” To Sumit’s point, if they’re not speaking up, how can you invite them to engage in a way that’s comfortable for them? How to get people engaged who might be a bit more reluctant, especially if a camera might make them nervous or being in Zoom? Any ideas on that?

I have a ton of ideas for that and I want to address what Sumit said because this is a systemic thing. This is not necessarily a technical thing. We can do some technical things, but this is a systemic thing that we need to hold our leaders accountable with diversity, equity, and inclusion, and if they show up as models to do that. There are some ways that they can do that. I’ll talk about how a tech host doesn’t have to be just the person that’s hired to do this. We all have a responsibility to do some of the glue work in order for us to stick together. I also think that leaders can do this as well.

If a leader is starting a meeting and they’re saying, “We’re going to start the meeting,” and they’re there to set the tone, they can also do a little bit of tech hosting script. What I like to say is, “We’d like to invite everyone to turn on their video cameras so that we can create a more authentic community here online.” We understand if you’re eating away from your desk, caring for someone, or you have low bandwidth and need to turn off your video temporarily, but making that an invitation rather than a requirement helps people not feel like they’re on the spot. They then can have some choices. It also puts the responsibility on them.

If they have their camera off and not eating, not taking care of someone, and are not away from their desk, they’re being bad. You don’t have to tell them that. You invite them in such a way that they go, “I want to be good and I want to contribute, and so I’m going to turn on my camera.” You can say, “If you have low bandwidth, let’s talk about that. We’re a company, let’s make sure that you have the speed that you need in order to be online.”

A couple of other things that are technical is to make sure that your faces are well-lit. If you have background lighting that’s making your face darker, it puts almost a veil between you and other people. Bring yourself to the light. This is an investment, but I have a ring light that’s fairly inexpensive that’s behind my camera that’s pointing at me. If I were to turn that off, you would see a lot of light coming from one side. In fact, you’ll see my face is a little bit lighter on the side. For those of you that care about the way you look online, if you have front lighting, you don’t see all the wrinkles. Front lighting is great, but it also brings you forward into the conversation.

If you’re also not being seen, take some responsibility for yourself to also show up. That can be helpful. To go back to your question, Wendy, around how do you call on people? I am married to an introvert who says, “Don’t ever call on me. Don’t ever make me introduce myself. I don’t even want to be in the room,” but he has to be there. He always has something so valuable to contribute. He’s usually the last person to speak. Whatever he says is usually what we go with anyway because he had thought about it the entire time. He listened to what everybody said and he was the voice of reason.

If you build in ways for people to contribute early on, that might mean if you’re in a big group, you divide up into breakouts and give people an opportunity to speak. Maybe even design it in a way where each person gets to give an elevator pitch or they get to say something, and then they want reflection. It’s more like sharing your idea to get feedback. Use a feedback mechanism like, “I like, I wish, and what if.” “I like this about what you said. I wish it could have been or maybe we could do something different like this. What if I have an idea to add to that?”

PSF 58 | Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry: If you are in a big group, divide the team into breakouts. This way, everyone will an opportunity to speak.


That lets off the pressure of you having to have the best idea or, “I don’t want to share it. I haven’t thought it through yet.” We’re here to give and take some feedback. I love at the very end to say, “I know someone has been listening and thinking, and they have something important to say. I wish you would take that opportunity now to unmute and share that.” I don’t know if that’s helpful. If that doesn’t scratch the itch, let me know because that’s a real challenge to get introverts involved. They do have very valuable insights and contributions but don’t always have the opportunity to contribute.

If I could dig a little bit more with that, statistically, possibly at least 50% of the population, prefers to be more on that introspective side or need to think before they talk. Some other questions would be where’s the onus for the engagement? Is it on the facilitator? Is it on the participants? Is it both? How do you communicate that responsibility?

A good facilitator would say, “Does anyone else have any ideas of what that answer might be? I’m happy to say, but I’d love to hear if anyone has something to add to that or can contribute to that.”

PSF 58 | Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry: Good facilitators don’t reveal answers to their questions immediately. Instead, they invite the audience to participate by encouraging them to add something to the discussion.


The ideas that I use and have been using a lot of this in an in-person class that I’m teaching these days. I’ve noticed a lot of people are hesitant to speak up because they don’t want to look stupid or because they feel that expressing ideas is ridiculous to somebody else. I use a blend of tech and non-tech interventions like I would leave a slide on with a tool like Mentimeter asking the same question. You can answer it in person if you want to or you can type out a response.

Some of the introverts will end up typing it in. I then can call them to provide more information saying, “That’s a fantastic idea. I’d like to hear more. Whoever put that in, would you want to elaborate or does anyone else want to build on this idea? You can do it on chat or live.” It works both ways where you feel encouraged and included in the conversation. At the same time, as an introvert, you can retain your unwillingness to stand up and speak in front of the class. I have seen this work in the virtual meeting as well.

I absolutely love that. Thank you so much for adding. I always have something to say and add. I don’t want to take up any air in the room because what happens is as soon as that spotlight’s on me, I get flush. I get nervous, my armpits get sweaty, and forget what I was going to say, but I know I had a great idea, so I want to type it in the chat or have a third-party collaboration tool. Mentimeter is excellent. It’s easy to use. There’s also Miro, Mural, or any of those things where we can go and put our ideas out there, and then maybe talk about them later if they’re relevant.

I had to learn the hard way in corporate. In my first corporate job, I was emotional. I cried and talked too much. It was all the wrong things at that time that I was supposed to be. I created a filter for myself. “Is what I’m about to say timely, relevant, or valuable?” I would ask myself that. For a long time, I went from talking too much to not talking at all. I made myself think about those things, which helped me formulate the words that I wanted to say so that when I was asked to say something or when I did have the opportunity to say something, I was ready.

I wanted to relate to those folks who are like, “I don’t want to look silly. I don’t want to look stupid.” I get physical feelings when I have to speak in front of people and share my ideas. It doesn’t happen to me so much when I’m facilitating because it’s a different role, but creating and building an opportunity the way you said is so very important. Anyone else? How would you help engage introverts or help keep people engaged in a meeting that may need the opportunity to speak up?

I’ve had experience in facilitating these kinds of meetings. Particularly, when I was a facilitator between a physician group and then the insurance group where I had executives from both sides of the spectrum. At times, it was so contentious because our outcomes were going on the down end. I won’t get into the specifics of the business, but everything was negative and a concern. Everything was anxiety, fear, anger, and contention. It was blaming each other in different silos.

I am also a talker. People who know me know that. It’s taking back and taking the time to listen first of all. What I would do in those types of facilitatory discussions and organizational effectiveness is I would prepare for those meetings in one-on-ones with each of the members in that particular group. I’m using more of a positive psychology approach to tease out or dialogue about what their intentions were for this meeting and what kind of outcomes were they hoping to achieve, including the introverts and the extroverts, doing some positive coaching prior to the meeting, and getting to know that individual on a personal level.

When it came time to facilitate, instead of focusing on all the problems, “What do we need to fix? This is bad. This is negative,” it’s probably a certain employee that needs to be fired, or “This department needs to go, ” because usually, HR hears that. It’s facilitating and talking about, “What do we need to do to grow and expand? What are the possibilities? What’s the vision?”

Calling upon that person because I’ve already had the conversation with them, and ask them those inquisitive questions to prompt that individual to share. It’s homework. It wasn’t just 40 leaders in a room and trying to get them all to speak in a very positive way and problem-solving way. It took a lot of preparation, relationship, and authenticity to talk to each of those leaders prior.

Thus, they had more trust in me as a facilitator. Also, I was able to hone in on their individual concerns. By the end of the session, I assured that everybody had a voice. That’s one of the techniques that I’ve attempted to do. When I started my own company, I’ve done the same thing. It made a tremendous difference. Those are my two cents about how to prepare.

That’s powerful, Char. I’m glad you brought up that nugget because I have gone into several meetings myself with some clients and have found that they have done zero socialization on some of the topics that they felt very strongly about. It has completely sidelined our progress going forward. Doing that stakeholder management is supercritical. It’s brilliant doing homework ahead of time, talking to those people that are going to be in the meeting, understanding their point of view, and identifying allies for your topic or those influencers that can make the meeting go much smoother. What do you think about that, Heather?

Char, that was brilliant. If we were to break it down to what is the core reason behind that, what is behavioral change? We can’t make a change in our organization without behavioral change. The why is that we want to meet that desired outcome. We’re here to solve or create something that we all agreed to come here and work to do, but what you got into were the great how-tos of how to get there. It does take time, work, and effort. There are some cases where some people aren’t willing to change, but they also have to have the opportunity to do that. That means the system that they’re living in and the system that we live in our organizations have to give us that opportunity. That comes down to culture.

We can't make a change in our organization without behavioral change. Share on X

When we answer Wendy’s question about who’s responsible for that, this is a cultural question. Everyone is responsible for how they show up, how they behave, and contribute to a meeting. Some other ways to do that in the meeting, in which Char is doing the hard work, which is the hardest thing to do. That’s not something I do as a facilitator. I’m the person in the meeting, so we come up with agreements. What are our agreements today? Not ground rules, but agreements. What are we going to agree to because this is what we aspire to? What is it we want to accomplish today and how are we going to get there?

It’s not about no cell phones. It’s about we’re going to be engaged. It’s not about no back talk or no idea is a bad idea. It’s about what we are going to share openly so that we can be effective. What happens when we use words that come from a positive psychology place, we can feel that difference in our bodies, and then that helps us be able to behave differently. It’s like, “I feel different. I’m going to behave differently. This is a different kind of meeting. I can show up in a different way. I have an opportunity. I feel the trust and the support in this room.” It comes from everybody and it’s about building space. I’m very careful to say safe space. I want to say safer space, meaning that we can’t have a truly safe space for everyone, but we can try to make the safest space that we can.

That issue of trust is critical because you can establish trust. I’ve seen it in organizations, people don’t want to speak up either from prior new issues and evidence of where things were used against people. Creating that safer environment, as you said, is so important.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but in my head, I live the Saturday Night Live life. I have these little scenarios in my head where everything is funny. I find humor in so much. When I’m facilitating, I have to be careful not to laugh. I’m not laughing at someone or laughing at their idea. I’m laughing at this story I’m telling myself in my head. That’s another thing. People don’t want to share their ideas because they’re afraid someone is going to laugh at them. They’re afraid that they’re going to be embarrassed. How we show up is not just how we actively show up, but how we show up in a receiving mode where other people feel like they can speak and contribute.

I’m guilty of interrupting people. Particularly, with an introvert that is trying to convey their opinion. Everyone is pursued of listening and they want to drive their point home. They interrupt and take it on a completely different rabbit hole. That individual shuts down who originally is trying to convey their idea. They cross their arms and say, “Screw it. Apparently, my opinion doesn’t matter.” I feel those kinds of ground rules as we talked about at the beginning are so critical. How do we respectfully not do that to one another?

I want to give some ideas about that. Why do we interrupt? We interrupt because we ourselves are not heard. I interrupt because I get excited about what someone is saying and I want to add to it. They may take that the wrong way. You’re right, the first thing they do is lean back and cross their arms. “I’ve said what I’ve said. No one is listening. I’m just going to lean back.”

We interrupt other people when we are not heard or we are too excited to add something to what they are saying. Share on X

Another thing that people do when they get interrupted is that they do this with their own mouths. They’ll go, “Sorry, I was talking. I shouldn’t have been talking.” That’s not true. It’s that someone interrupted you and you felt shame. Another thing that they do is they will start talking and then they’ll say, “So,” they’re creating space for themselves in the room. I’m only sharing this with everyone here because if you tend to interrupt, these are some physical things that you can see and then go, “Maybe I need to be quiet for a minute.”

I love doing our forums because we even interrupt each other all the time.

It’s because we’re excited.

We’re also very excited about our expert guests such as you and listening to your points of view. Culturally, a lot of companies deal with that. It’d be helpful to learn your perspective on how we curb that culture so that we can have that safety. If we want to interrupt, how do we do that respectfully, courteously, and honor the other person’s ideas and the points they’re trying to convey?

This red dot is simply a red construction paper dot on a stick. How we do that is we set some meeting principles. Some people are checking their cell phones and checking out during the agreement part and they’re not paying attention. They’re waiting for the meeting to start. They’re waiting for the other people to agree on what we’re going to do, “We’re going to put that flip chart over there and then get to the meeting.”

After I do agreements, I like to say, “Now, I want to talk about a meeting principle called The Red Dot Theory.” The Red Dot Theory comes from the book, The Primes by Chris McGoff. He was in Washington, DC and I got to work with him a couple of times. I love his book. If you go to the website,, he has videos where he explains all of these. I like to use his theories to set up and set the tone for the meeting and say, “What kind of meeting do we want to have? Do we want to have a usual meeting, an available meeting, or an extraordinary meeting?”

PSF 58 | Appreciative Inquiry

The Primes


Of course, everybody wants to have an extraordinary meeting, but they haven’t had one in a while so they’re not going to believe it’s going to happen. The usual meeting means that we’re going to have the usual conversations like, “How are you? I am fine. How’s the weather?” It’s the stuff you say in an elevator because you’re not going to get too in-depth.

You can then have available meetings where it’s like, “The six of us or however many of us are here together. What kind of conversations can we have that we can’t normally have with other people?” We are then going to have an extraordinary meeting. We’re going to have to ask questions we never asked and share things we’ve never shared in order to have something extraordinary.

One way that you can interrupt without hurting anybody’s feelings is by saying, “I have a red dot conversation. I have something so important to say that’s going to make this extra extraordinary. I’m going to hold up my red dot.” You pass these little paddles around to everybody, and it gives them an opportunity to facilitate themselves and one another to say, “I have something important to add. I don’t mean to interrupt, but right here.”

It’s also great when you’re not ready to front load something like, “I have something to say. This might be a sensitive thing to say, but it needs to be said. It’s important. I’m just going to say it.” In our culture in the United States and some other cultures, being direct isn’t always received well. People like kindness, but we can have candor with kindness. This red dot is one way for someone who wants to interrupt but doesn’t want to say all the front stuff first to be nice about it and say, “I have a red dot.” If we all agree that we’ll honor this red dot, now we have a facilitative tool to be able to do that.

That’s a great idea. As you were talking about that, I was thinking about some movie where there had a men’s group in the middle of the wilderness, and you had to hold the stick to be able to speak. They were passing a stick around the fire.

That’s the talking stick and that comes from Native American traditions of them passing the stick around the campfire to take turns so that everyone gets to speak. That can go back to Wendy’s question, “We’re going to have a stick here. Who hasn’t spoken that wants to hold the stick? When you are holding the stick, no one gets to interrupt. That’s the rule. That’s what we agreed on.” That little thing that I flashed there is my gremlin. If any of you have an inner gremlin that reminds you about things, that’s the other side. When I’m holding my inner gremlin, it is like, “I’m keeping an eye on them.”

You better not get that gremlin wet. It’s going to turn into a little monster.

What are some other ideas as far as making meetings flow more effectively and be more productive?

I want to drill down a little bit because I love meeting approach design and I love creating visuals to do that. Are we talking at the beginning of the meeting or online meetings? Give me a topic and I’ll talk about it.

It’s how to set the stage in an online meeting when you first join in. I’ve heard a lot of techniques. A lot of times people talk about having a moment of socialization where we understand where everybody’s at, and then we jump into the session. What do you find most productive?

I don’t know about the most productive, but I’m going to share my favorite way to start a meeting, whether it’s a big summit or if it’s what we do like this week thing.

Heather, you’re using Prezi for Zoom, correct?


I wanted to let our audience know that this is a tool you can check out. Heather can show you lots of great ways to use it. Prezi for Zoom is what she’s using to put things up on the screen.

It’s called Prezi Live or Prezi Video. It’s weird. It’s an app on my computer that says Prezi Video, but when you download it, it’s Prezi Live. It’s different than the Prezi that we used to use instead of PowerPoint presentations. To get back to how I like to start a meeting, as an Appreciative Inquiry facilitator, I like to start it out with a positive tone. A great way to do that is to talk about our accomplishments.

I did write a blog post and I can share that with all of you. For the Center of Appreciative Inquiry, it’s supposed to be an iceberg. What I did is before the meeting, I asked the director, “Can you give me some of the accomplishments that you’ve accomplished over the last year?” This happened to be for a larger annual retreat. She gave me those accomplishments. We had a bigger purpose in mind, and that was to make some advances around how we make this nonprofit thriving.

I am going to show you a little bit of the nuts and bolts or some of the sausage making, and then I’ll show you how it ends up being a great way to start a meeting. What I did is I separated accomplishments, money, programming, narrative, and strategy. What that aligns with is The 5 Pillars of the Fourteen Attributes of a Thriving Nonprofit by Joan Garry. This is the information that the client gave me. She said, “Have you heard of these Fourteen Attributes of a Thriving Nonprofit?” I said, “No, I haven’t.” I asked her to send me the accomplishments. She didn’t know that I was going to put these two things together.

Somehow the whole page of accomplishments that she gave me, I was able to separate into these pillars. When I came into the meeting, I said, “What we’re going to do is we’re going to celebrate our accomplishments so far,” and then I asked everyone in the meeting, “What else?” I left room on the outside of the iceberg. This is more interactive. People could see what I was saying. I started building trust with them as a facilitator to write down what they were saying. They came up with all kinds of wonderful things that they too either personally accomplished or weren’t on that particular list.

We had that there as a way to celebrate what we’ve done. We were going into the meeting feeling pretty good. We then had to literally roll up our sleeves a little bit later. I shared this in step three. We created a heat map of all of the attributes. It was 20 feet wide. This was an in-person meeting, but we could do this in Miro or Mural. I had them use sticky dots to say, “How are we doing with each one of these attributes? Are we thriving? Are we surviving? Is this something we need to work on?”

At the very end of the meeting, I went back to the visual and said, “We celebrated our accomplishments throughout the entire year. We even did a heat map on where we can improve, but what made us so successful?” It’s being able to say, “What’s underneath that water line?” I do recognize that this isn’t how icebergs float because there’s always more mass underneath them. Another thing is after I drew this, I went, “I should have made a lot more mass because it takes so many skills and strengths to be able to accomplish these things.” This is the way I like to start out. It’s a very simple thing. I can also put the blog site for the Center of Appreciative Inquiry. I do the actual how-to steps through this process.

This is great. Thank you so much, Heather. Wendy, you also had some questions from our audience.

First of all, Heather, I did want to also share some positive feedback that we got. Nikki said, “This is such a comprehensive and creative approach for virtual engagement. Thank you for that,” and lots of other folks said, “Great tips. Thank you.” We did have a question come in which is, “Meeting principles is great. What type of training would you recommend for groups that are very diverse culturally and educationally, because tones can be misinterpreted at times.”

That is tough because there are so many different kinds of trainings out there. My approach has been I got trained through the Center for Appreciative Inquiry. That’s my go-to and I pull from a lot of different modalities, but that’s my main thing. I found it to be helpful because it is so very universal, but I’d love to hear what other folks think because we’ve got great knowledge in the room. That’s my way of saying I don’t have all the answers.

What comes to mind is maybe you have to do some pre-work, pre-activities, or icebreakers to build trust around this diversity. I was thinking of a tool that I work with a lot, which is the TMA tool, and even diversity in how we think about things, how we approach life, what we value, what our talents are, and what are our passions. Being able to come together, know ourselves, learn about each other, have an appreciation for that difference, why it matters, and why we need that diversity of thought and cultural diversity. You probably have to plan some fun and interesting almost get-to-know-you and build-trust activities in order to address that. That’s a good question.

Anyone else?

Playing in with the red dot, we are going to assume the positive that we are all marching toward the same end goal. If something is said, let’s take the high road and assume positive intent. Sometimes we’re changing our language. Sometimes we say the wrong things that we’re trying to improve on. If everybody can see that we’re all making an effort to try to be respectful of cultural, educational, and other differences, maybe that red dot is where we’re all making the best effort.

You’re onto something there when you talk about making sure that everyone has agency and everybody is contributing. Personality assessments can be helpful if and when they are embraced by the entire organization. We can better understand ourselves and each other. An intense exercise is called The Johari Window, and that’s where we learn about ourselves, learn about others, and what other people think of us. There’s a space in our life where we don’t understand who we are. We need to accept that part that we may show up in ways that we don’t anticipate with others.

There's a space in our life where we don't understand who we are. We need to accept that we may show up in ways that we don't anticipate with others. Share on X

You bring up an important point that there are lots of how-tos, but you have to have agreement from everybody that we’re going to do this. As far as training goes, I’m sure there’s plenty out there for us to be able to learn this, but it comes from creating a culture where we do want to make an effort to accept diversity.

Thank you so much, Heather. This has been such a rich conversation. I appreciate you coming on the show and sharing it with our audience. For those that have more questions and want to reach out to you about your services and learn more, how can they go about doing that?

There are a couple of different ways. There’s an AI template. That’s a great way if you want to learn how to ask the right questions. When I say right, I don’t think there’s ever any perfect question, but you’re getting closer to that. That’ll put you on my email list if you want to hear more from me. You can email me anytime from my website. I have a couple. is where I do my tech hosting. is where I do a lot of my visual coaching and also facilitation work.

One piece that we didn’t talk about, which I’m known for in my circles is lettering. is another website. I teach trainers and facilitators how to improve their handwriting when they’re in the front of the room writing on flip charts, whiteboards, and things like that. That’s where I love to geek out. That’s a lot of fun.

We have a lot of things to talk about. We need to have you back on, Heather. You have so much to share.

It’s my pleasure. Thank you so much.

It’s so wonderful. We had to close things off. Thank you so much, Heather, for sharing everything. It’s been a truly engaging conversation. Thank you everyone for joining us. We’ll see you next time.


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About Heather Leavitt Martinez

PSF 58 | Appreciative InquiryHeather Leavitt Martinez started her work as a visual practitioner in 2011 while working at KornFerry, a leadership development company. She quickly realized that she wanted to create a team of graphic facilitators so she pitched her idea to a systems engineering start-up in Washington, DC.

She became a co-founder, art director and scrum master of the Visioneering team. As a senior consultant for the intelligence community, Heather worked closely with organizational change managers to write facilitation guides and support multi-day offsites for directors of agencies.

Shortly after the administration change in 2016, Heather left DC and took a gap year to travel across North America in a 1947 teardrop trailer. In this time she kept a blog, wrote a book, created a platform to train other visual practitioners, and attended three, month-long artist residencies to focus on her fine art.

Heather has arts administration training from the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts, Colorado Creative Industries (CCI), and received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and CCI to expand her art career coaching model. Heather recently left her position of Director of Design and Visualization at Kadabra, a leadership development firm, to pursue her work as the director at Tech Host Academy and spend time teaching lettering in her new studio space at The ArtRoom at the Smiley building in Duran

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