Who goes first — protocols for online meetings

who goes firstLast week I shared protocols for “who goes next?” at meetings. This week it’s time to cover a closely related topic: who goes first?

When everyone shares at a meeting, someone has to start! There are two scenarios to consider: facilitating a discussion for a single group, and providing directions for choosing who goes first when simultaneous small group discussions are needed or desired.

Face-to-face and online meetings have different signaling options, which I described in detail last week. So for this post, I’ll chronicle “who goes first” options for single and multiple group scenarios.

Options for choosing who goes first with a single group

• Ask for a volunteer

Probably the most common protocol for determining who goes first is to ask “who wants to start?” and provide a signaling method: e.g., raise your hand, or use an online signaling option.

This is generally a perfectly acceptable method, though, as you’ll see the next two options may be preferable under some circumstances.

• Facilitator/leader goes first

Sometimes a topic under discussion is tough to talk about. I’ve been in many meetings where the first contribution avoided addressing what was asked, or was meagre or superficial. This gives later sharers a license to follow suit. For example, a question about how a person is feeling about an issue may be answered by what they are thinking about it.

When a meeting facilitator or leader starts the sharing and models the kind of response that’s wanted, it’s much more likely that others will respond in a similar way.

• A plant goes first

No, not that underwatered yet surprisingly intelligent potted hibiscus that’s sitting next to the speakerphone. Or Groot. Rather, the facilitator asks a reliable participant, perhaps warned beforehand, to provide a great response to the posed question/issue/challenge.

Ways for small groups to independently determine who goes first

When you’re facilitating multiple small group sharing, either in person or online, you need to provide each group with guidance on how to choose who goes first. In person, you can provide this guidance once everyone is in their small group. Online, typically, you will need to supply “who goes first” instructions before people are whisked into their virtual breakout rooms.

A word about pair share

One of the best ways to improve any meeting session is to regularly include pair share (where paired participants each take time in turn to share their thoughts with their partner). Online, rather than splitting everyone into pairs, I recommend you create groups of four. Instruct each group to form two pairs, perhaps using one of the methods described below. Have one pair run pair share while the other pair listens, and then switch. This makes it more likely that each pair will actually follow instructions, and gives the group of four people a taste of three perspectives rather than one.

Methods for small groups to choose who goes first

You can use a couple of strategies: either leave it up to the groups to decide, or provide a method for them.

[Some of the following ideas were sparked by this post (check it out for even more ideas!) by Ted DesMaisons]

Letting each group decide who goes first is always an option, but it can also be fun to have groups compare or discover something about each other. Here are some simple ideas; feel free to add your own, especially if you can identify something that relates to the topic groups or pairs are going to discuss:

  • First name closest to start of alphabet
  • Longest first name
  • Tallest
  • Nearest to birthday
  • Earliest up in the morning
  • Lowest street address number
  • Closest to a point in the room
  • Longest hair
  • Most pockets
  • Lives nearest to water
  • Most recently worked in the garden
  • Last purchased something
  • Most colorful clothing

Feeling whimsical? For a pair share, pick neutral substitutes for partners A and B. For example: “One of you is cup, one of you is saucer.” “One of you is coffee, the other tea.” “One of you is sun, one is moon.” There are plenty of other pairs you can use (rock and roll, knife and fork, bread and butter) but avoid those that could have a negative connotation (e.g., life and death, right and wrong). And if you’re running multiple pair shares in a session, have Partner B start first sometimes, and change partners and who-goes-first strategies as well.

Are there other ways to decide who goes first?

I hope these ideas will prove helpful. I bet there are more I haven’t thought of. If you have additions and improvements, please share them in the comments! 

Event Design is how it works

Design is how it works“Design is how it works” is the favorite thing Apple software engineer Ken Kocienda heard Steve Jobs say.

Here’s Steve:

“Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it [a product] looks like. People think it’s this veneer—that the designers are headed this box and told, “Make it look good!” That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.
—Steve Jobs, The Guts of a New Machine, 2003 New York Times interview

If only we applied Steve’s insight to event design.

Read the rest of this entry »

Boredom is just a state of mind

bored 14154838845_eccf26546c_h1969: I am a nineteen year old college student, talking with friends in my 500 year old room above the entrance to Merton College, Oxford. The world up to this point has been a fascinating place, full of interesting things to learn, and new experiences to have. But today, something feels different.

“I’m bored,” I announce.

Cathy, a first-year history student from St. Hilda’s, looks at me.

“I think boredom is just a state of mind,” she says.

And, immediately, I know she’s right.

Read the rest of this entry »

Trapped in a giant trash compactor? You always have a choice.

You always have a choice star-wars-garbage-chute-1024x684You know, you always have a choice.

So we’ve just broken Princess Leia out of the holding cell but we’re trapped in the detention corridor under heavy fire. The Princess (gosh, she’s beautiful) gets it into her head to escape through a garbage chute, and we end up in a large room full of—what else?—garbage.

The smell is terrible.

There’s a sudden ghastly moan, and a huge tentacle grabs my leg and drags me under the muck! I’m just about to drown when a loud grinding sound scares the monster away. That’s the good news. The bad news is: There’s no way out, and the room just got a whole lot smaller!

Most people would be panicking at this point. Let me put it this way; I’m only spared embarrassing myself in front of The Princess because the room already stinks to high heaven. And that’s when Han demonstrates that you always have a choice in how you look at life’s problems.

Read the rest of this entry »

Meeting participants deserve real choices, not just window dressing

choice 114430223_2eed0218b4_o

My daughter Cara and her kids joined us last week at our home in Vermont. We ended up spending most of our time goofing around:

IMG_5030
July 4 fireworks
Bellows Falls station
Bellows Falls station

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How we decide is important because it greatly determines what we decide. Last week we made superficial decisions. That’s a recipe for relaxation and fun—and who doesn’t need some of that!

When it comes to making decisions about meetings, however, many meeting professionals stick with old familiar formats. Keynote, plenary, panel, breakout, social; rinse and repeat. That decided, they concentrate on the logistics: F&B, decor, etc.

Here’s Seth Godin’s take on this approach:

Sometimes, it seems like all we do is make decisions.

Most of those decisions, though, are merely window dressing. This color couch vs. that one? Ketchup or Mayo? This famous college vs. that one? This nice restaurant vs. that one? This logo vs. that one?

Genuine choice involves whole new categories, or “none of the above.” Genuine choice is difficult to embrace, because it puts so many options and so many assumptions on the table with it.

There’s nothing wrong with avoiding significant choices most of the time. Life (and an organization) is difficult to manage if everything is at stake, all the time.

The trap is believing that the superficial choices are the essential part of our work. They’re not. They’re mostly an easy way to avoid the much more frightening job of changing everything when it matters.
Seth Godin, The Illusion of Choice

We have known for a while now that traditional formats are not the best ways for attendees to engage, learn, and connect. The increasing popularity and success of social production (e.g. Wikipedia, Linux, Kickstarter, etc.) parallels the growing adoption of innovative participant-driven and participation-rich meeting formats. Meeting planners now need to take on the “frightening job” of changing conference models to those that give participants real choices about what, how, and with whom they engage, learn, and connect.

There’s a time and place for making superficial decisions. (Like last week!) But when we concentrate on the superficial at the expense of the important when planning our meetings we are doing a disservice to those who spend significant resources of time and money to attend.

We can do better. Yes, it’s scary. But we owe it to our clients.

Shop window photo attribution: Flickr user orinrobertjohn

Do conference participants want less control?

control center 8367806772_6458666dab_k

When Google announced the end of its popular RSS reader Google Reader, many assumed it was a business decision based on economics.

Maybe not.

Christina Bonnington writes in Wired:

…there’s another reason Google decided to put its RSS reader to death. According to Mountain View, most of us simply consume news differently now than when Reader was launched…

…No matter what Mountain View says about changing user habits, though, both Now and Plus do one thing: They keep you in Google’s world. It’s a de-emphasis of content source. In other words, rather than reading Cat Fancy religiously, you’re reading the Animals category religiously — a category populated by the sites Google’s products think you’ll enjoy most [emphasis added].

In other words, Google says it can do a better job choosing what we read than we can. If you’re cynical, you might interpret this move to be Google’s way of keeping you in GoogleWorld, surrounded by the ads that supply most of Google’s profits. (Yes, I know there are no ads on Google Plus. Yet.)

Now I’m not disputing that Google does a fantastic job in some areas: Search and Maps come immediately to mind. But I’ve seen no evidence to date that Google (or other single source for that matter) is capable of serving me content that’s better than what I can actively discover myself.

Meta-curation
We all need help these days to discover important content and ideas online—and how we define “important” is unique to each of us. I, and I suspect most people, rely on a mix of human-curated sources. Mine cover around eighty sources on topics like meetings and events, associations, news, tools, play, facilitation, privacy, copyright, networking, business, politics, personal development, consumer issues, philanthropy, Apple news, and a number of “interesting stuff” sites. Yours will be different. Jon Udell calls this approach meta-curation.

I’ve written here and here about my skepticism of conference curation. Individual participants want different things from events, and predetermined conference programs are a poor way to satisfy attendee needs. In my experience most conference attendees, when given the power to determine what they wish to experience at an event, relish the opportunity. The tragedy is that still so few meetings these days allow attendees to make this choice.

From this perspective, moves like Google’s are a small step backwards toward a world with less control. Removing a tool that allows us to monitor a collection of online information sources that each of us selects incrementally reduces our options. In this case, luckily, there are alternatives to Google Reader available (though I still haven’t found one I like as much). But restricting choice, whether it concerns online meta-curation or conferences’ responsiveness to real participant needs is something that should concern us all.

Photo attribution: Flickr user PSNH