Get a Group “Inside” a 100+ Page Document in 12+ Minutes


How is that possible you ask? I do this regularly both in my facilitation and training events. I adapted the idea for this technique from an organization called Learning Strategies in Minneapolis. About 18 years ago, they called it “photo-reading”. I added in my own touches based on good facilitator protocols I learned from ICA’s Technology of Participation (ToP) and Accelerated Learning theory about the brain and music. The steps are based on sound neuroscience techniques and are really valuable when you need a group to give feedback on a complicated or large document in a short amount of time. The technique we share today is equally effective as a way to improve content retention of training materials. You can also use it to quickly review clients’ background reading materials, a long contract you are signing, or a book you have to get “inside” quickly. You can also use it to jump start your own motivation when faced with a “daunting” reading task.

Does that give you enough reasons to check this out?   I think, based on what several colleagues have been telling me, that what I’ve adapted is a unique, enjoyable, confidence-building and effective 5 step process. Please free to pass it on to others. If you have adaptations which you find compelling improvements, please let me know and I will publish them.

TrinidadBefore we begin, just a quick word about my final big trip for this first 4 months of the year as you may want to be sure to read the next blog /newsletter about it. I am on my way to Trinidad/Tobago for the IAF (International Association of Facilitators) North American conference. It is a small set of islands near South America.  It will take me ten hours of flying to get there. I will be happily co-delivering two presentations.  One on multi-generational synergy with my fun and wise Gen Y co-facilitator, Rangineh Azimzadeh Tosang from California (; and one on transformational practices for authentic Sharon Almerigi from Barbados ( colleaguesAll three of us are Certified Professional Facilitators (CPFs) with the IAF. Want to know what getting a CPF designation entails? Visit our webpage!

Ok, here is the 12+ minute, five step document review and/or feedback technique. It will be short and brief. It might take you 5 minutes to read it! There is a slightly different ending when used for a training situation so I offer that also.


    • Relaxing music played at a low volume – barely loud enough to hear and ideally 60 beats per second like Mozart, etc. I actually use something slightly faster that is upbeat. One of my favorites the flamenco guitar by Ottmar Liebert. See resources below for one of his YouTube videos. Music that puts people into a positive emotional state helps the brain retain the information better. You can also have the group practice the heart brain coherence technique to get the heart and brain waves synchronized for improved performance in this task. See resources below for my YouTube blog demonstration of this.
    • Speakers for music if the group is large.
    • 20+ small 1 centimeter strips of post it notes or “baby” post-it notes for each participant to affix to pages of document (if using printed copies).
    • Print or online copies of the document to be reviewed. If doing online, you can have them use the electronic post-it note feature or highlighter.
    • Timer
    • Chimes or bell
    • Debrief or post-review questions written out in large dark marker on half sheets of paper to post on wall or on a PPT (See ideas of sample questions below).
  • If needed, a template you create to record the group’s answers at the end of the exercise.



1. Context: (1 minute)
Tell the group, “We are going to use a process to help each of you quickly assess and review this document loosely based on a technique called Photo Reading, developed by Learning Strategies Corporation. Neuroscientists say the brain can unconsciously process perhaps 400 billion data bits per second, but consciously only take in 40 bits per second. The estimates vary a lot depending on what you are measuring but the bottom line is the brain can unconsciously take in so much information! By doing this technique, your brain will quickly assess (unconsciously) where it needs to go back to for more thorough reading but this helps you get a realistic big picture of the entire document in a short amount of time. Once you are done, we will gather in small groups to review the key pages you flagged and explore what needs to happen next with the document or your learning.”

2. Demonstration: (2 minutes)
Stand up. Hold the document in your non-dominant hand balanced against your lower forearm. Demonstrate each action as you tell them, “I will show you how to do this at your tables, place your document and post-it notes in front of you. You can do this standing up or sitting down. You will go through the entire document in about 5-7 minutes. You will lightly focus your eyes on the outer edges of each page for about one second. Then move onto the next page. Anytime you see something on a page that your mind says, ‘Oh – this is interesting!’ Or, ‘I need to pay attention to this!’, place a post it note at the part you were intrigued by, on the edge of the page so it sticks out if you close the document. (Obviously a bit different if it is an electronic review). Keep turning or scrolling through the pages and “flagging” interesting or important parts until you are completely through the document or until I call out “time”. Imagine your brain is simply photographing each page so that it does not take very long. I will play some music at a very low volume to help your brain relax. If the music is too loud to help you relax, please move to another spot in the room that is further away from the music.  If you are able to raise your hand, I will turn it to a lower volume.”

3. Document Review (3-7 minutes)
Each person reviews entire document using actual or electronic post-it notes.  About 1 minute before your stated timing is up, let the group know, “You have 1 more minute to finish the entire document”.  Timing is dependent on the length of document.  One hundred pages takes about 5-7 minutes.  Fifty pages takes about 3 minutes. This is based on reading English by an English speaking, adult educated audience. It might vary by language or by language ability. Please practice it beforehand yourself or with a representative participant with the intended document and assess the approximate timing needed.

4. Small group review: (4-10 minutes)
Depending on the group size and the amount of consensus you need on this document review, have people either pair up with the person next to them (this is fastest), or get together with the three people closest to them (if you need more consensus). Post each of your questions on the wall or screen and indicate you expect each person to take about 2 minutes to answer all of the questions you post. Then you will ring a bell and ask them to switch to the next person until every small group member has had a chance to speak. The questions are:


Note:  You can have every group member answer the first three questions and then collectively share and record answers to the last question. You can also have each person answer all four questions and then have a group recorder note all the different recommendations on a template you provide them.

5. Large group debrief: (3-25 minutes)
Tell the group you want to hear from each small group (if time) or 3-4 people if only a little time available. Flipchart their answers or document on screen as it helps people remember and follow along if they can see as well as hear.

Ask: (The order of these questions is based on the Technology of Participation Focused Conversation Method or ORID)


OR, if training or for learning content purposes, the last question might be:

  • What are 3 additional tips you ‘ve learned in this training by reviewing the training handouts or manual?


Barbara MacKay

Barbara loves “everything facilitation”. She thinks BIG! She loves working with other facilitators around the globe to create transformational results for client groups. She loves teaching others how to do that. She loves presenting at global facilitator conferences. She loves certifying new professional facilitators. If you also love what process facilitation can do for the world, connect with her – virtually or in person. She believes facilitation processes, used well, will provide the roadmap to a more just and sustainable world.


  1. Lawrence Philbrook on April 12, 2016 at 8:50 pm

    Excellent process. I appreciate the great sharing you are doing

    I have added three slides from ICA’s Charting process also based on ORID to create a “picture” of a book or article by yourself or with a group.

    With respect, Larry

  2. jaslin on August 1, 2017 at 6:20 am

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