In a typical in-person conference breakout session, participants divide into small groups to discuss one or more topics. Each group records members’ thoughts and ideas on one or more sheets of flipchart paper. At the end of the discussions, groups post their papers on a wall and everyone walks around reading the different ideas. Facilitators call this a gallery walk. Here’s a tip to improve breakout gallery walks.
Why use gallery walks?
In the past, it was common for small group work to be “reported out”: a representative from each group verbally shared their group’s work with everyone. If there are many groups this takes a while, and there’s typically a fair amount of repetition which makes it hard to maintain focus. In addition, if the groups are covering multiple topics, it’s likely that some or most of the reporting will not be of interest to attendees. In short, reporting out is tiring to take in and inefficient.
A big advantage of gallery walks is that participants can easily concentrate on the topics, thoughts, and ideas that interest them. If a flipchart page is of no interest, it can be ignored. Also, it’s simple to customize a gallery walk to meet specific wants and needs. For example, if there are experts on a specific topic, they can stand near their flipchart notes and answer questions or support discussion. In fact, gallery walks allow ongoing interaction around the captured ideas, something that isn’t possible during “reporting out” which is a broadcast-style activity.
And this leads to my tip…
My tip to improve breakout gallery walks
You can improve the effectiveness of a gallery walk by adding one small step before it starts. Ask everyone to pair up with someone they don’t know and walk the gallery together while discussing what they see. When you do this, each participant:
- Gets introduced to and learns about someone new.
- Gains new perspectives on the topics under discussion.
- Continues to actively learn about the topics after the end of their small group.
In essence, pairing participants increases the reach and impact of the breakout session by extending connection and interaction into the concluding gallery walk.
As usual, lightly ask participants to pair share. I like to think of such requests as giving people permission to do something they might want to do but feel a little awkward asking for it. If folks want to go around with someone they know or have just met, or decide to walk as a trio or alone respect their choices.
A hat-tip to my friend, photographer Brent Seabrook, for inadvertently sparking this tip when we took a gallery walk together at the Clark Institute a few months ago. Looking at art together with Brent added so much to my appreciation of what we saw—and I got to know him better too!
Image attribution: Georgia State University, College of Education & Human Development
One thought on “Tip to improve breakout gallery walks”
-ensure each is legible and in a size and color more easily seen;
-someone to read and explain if participants a) can’t see, don’t know terms – US participants tend to use US sports or US-centric terms just as those from other countries and cultures use familiar-to-them-tho-not-all terms;
-at a height and in a space accessible to all.
Question: for those with discomfort of or difficulty in moving about, what are your best tricks? Using 11×14 sturdy paper (erasable boards are nice til hands eliminate letters ir words!) and dark marker and passing those around?