I’m excited to present my Participate! Lab at The EVENT, April 4-6, Montréal! I’ll also facilitate a panel/audience “fishbowl sandwich” discussion on industry lessons learned (see the comments), and a closing Group Spective.
After a highly successful debut in 2018, three Meeting Professionals International (MPI) Chapters — MPI Toronto, MPI Montréal/Québec, and MPI Ottawa — have again joined forces to provide cutting edge, innovative, experiential education at The EVENT.
Organizer Karen Norris, who invited me, summed up The Event as follows:
“We pride ourselves on the fact that our conference is not a typical, didactic conference and we are an ‘experience.'”
Using peer to peer learning techniques, innovative technology, and creative meeting design, The EVENT‘s objectives are to:
encourage participants to collaborate with industry peers;
Marriott’s announcement sparked the potential of a commission war (some independent properties are raising group booking commissions). It led to fear of further reductions or elimination of commissions by other suppliers in the future. Taking a wider view, let’s talk about the corrosive effect of commissions on the meeting industry.
My session Designing Participation Into Your Meetings will, unsurprisingly, include a fair number of interactive exercises: human spectrograms, pair share, The Three Questions, a mild experience of chaos, and others. My goal is to motivate participants to incorporate participant-driven and participation-rich design elements into their meetings.
There’s been a lot of interest in The Solution Room, a session that I co-facilitated last July at Meeting Professionals International World Education Congress in Orlando, Florida. It is one of the most popular sessions I’ve been asked to facilitate at conferences this year. So here’s some information about the session…oh, and don’t miss the two-minute video of participant testimonials at the end of this post!
Enough round tables seating 6-8 people for every participant to have a seat.
Flip chart paper that completely covers the tables, a plenty of colored markers at each table
Sufficient clear space in the room to hold a one-dimensional human spectrogram for all participants
Brief description The Solution Room is a powerful conference session, typically lasting between 90-120 minutes, which not only engages and connects attendees, but also provides peer-supported advice on their most pressing problems. A session of 20 or more people (the format can handle hundreds of participants) starts with a short introduction followed by a human spectrogram that demonstrates the amount of experience available in the room. Next, participants are given some time to think of a problem or challenge they have for which they would like to receive peer advice. A second human spectrogram follows which maps participants’ comfort level.
Participants are now divided into small groups of 6-8 people, each group sharing a round table covered with flip chart paper and plenty of colored markers. The group members are then asked to individually mindmap their problem on the paper in front of them. Each participant in turn then has the same amount of time to explain his or her problem or challenge to the others at the table and receive advice and support.
For a public group evaluation, two final human spectrograms map the shift in comfort level of all the participants and the likelihood that participants will try to change what they’ve just shared.
A two-minute video of testimonials from my Solution Room session at the 2011 Meeting Professionals International World Education Conference in Orlando, Florida
What approach should we use to teach participation techniques for meeting sessions?
With the rise of social learning and the decline in importance of formal learning, perhaps we should use experiential learning. On the other hand, in the same time needed to experience a limited set of participation techniques we can comprehensively describe many more. There again, perhaps experiencing a participation technique directly is a more effective way to cement both learning it and truly understanding its relevance. So, if we are teaching participation techniques, which of these two approaches is a better path for learning?
J’s light-bulb moment Earlier this week I led a workshop at Meeting Professionals International’s World Education Congress (WEC). The 150-minute session covered a variety of techniques that foster and support meaningful participation during meetings. Participants spent most of their time using these techniques to learn about and connect with each other and explore questions about their experience at WEC and in the session itself.
As the workshop progressed, and I heard from the forty-six participants, it became clear that one of them, whom I’ll call J, had considerable prior experience with the techniques I was facilitating.
Near the end of the workshop I ran Plus/Delta (described in Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love): a method that provides a fast, public evaluation of a session or entire meeting. As an advocate for transparency and feedback, I chose the subject of our Plus/Delta to be a group evaluation of the workshop itself. During the evaluation, J commented that he had hoped that I would cover more techniques by talking about them rather than having attendees experience them directly. He then contributed a simple and ingenious way to extend Plus/Delta that was new to me.
My heart sank, just a little. Here was J, an experienced facilitator of participation techniques, proposing that I should spend the workshop talking about techniques rather than facilitating experiences of them. Could I be going about this wrong?
I moved immediately into the last technique of the workshop, running fishbowl: a simple way to facilitate focused discussion with a large group. All participants sit in a large circle of chairs, but only people in the “fishbowl”, a small circle of chairs at the center, can speak. After a few minutes of comments, J entered the fishbowl.
J said that he had read about fishbowls many times before and he understood how they worked, but he had never tried one.
And then, to my surprise and delight, he told us that experiencing the fishbowl had been a revelation to him, because he had directly experienced the power of the technique in a way that significantly enhanced his understanding of it, which he had previously believed to be sufficient. It was poignant for me to hear J express a new point of view that contradicted what he had said only a few minutes earlier, and I admired his courage in sharing his learning with us all.
I too have struggled over the years to define the best balance between understanding techniques through description and understanding them through direct experience. J’s light-bulb moment fits for me; these days I am content to let attendees learn participation techniques, first through direct experience and then, if necessary, via reflection and discussion.
Postscript At the end of the workshop, J hung around and we talked while I was packing up my equipment for a flight home.
He told me that his fishbowl sharing had unexpectedly reminded him of a session he had once attended, entitled “One hundred icebreakers in one hundred minutes”, consisting of rapid descriptions of a hundred ways to introduce attendees to each other.