The five tips outlined here can be applied to face-to-face and online gatherings, workshops or events. These tips come from my own experience as a learner, a designer of learning experiences and delivering training in both physical and virtual spaces.
"A gathering is three or more people coming together for a purpose with a beginning, middle and end" Priya Parker
Under each tip I will give an example. These examples are taken from a Connect & Reflect gathering I facilitated this month.
1. Have a clear purpose: in order to have any meaningful conversations you the facilitator and all the participants have to be clear on WHY you are meeting.
Example purpose: to connect with each other, reflect on 2020 and look ahead to set intentions for 2021
2. Empower your participants by giving them choice:
I designed this Connect & Reflect gathering following Appreciative Inquiry. This consists of 4 D's:
At the Discovery stage there were a number of questions to reflect on. I asked the participants to choose one or two questions that resonated with them the most. Here are the questions they could choose from:
What were your wins in 2020?
In what ways did you experience growth in 2020?
What positive things did you learn about yourself in 2020?
3. Design activities that create peaks of positive energy:
I would say that there were three key points in the gathering (or should I say learning experience) where there were peaks of positive energy.
Firstly, at the beginning when I gave each participant a hand-crafted memento kit. They couldn't wait to see what was inside, so a feeling of excitement and anticipation came over the group!
Secondly, the first activity we did was to connect the group and get all voices heard. Note, not all the participants knew each other. I designed a "Connect & Reflect Lucky Dip box" that was passed around to each person. They took a card and then shared their answer with the whole group. The video below will show you how this worked.
Thirdly, at the Dream stage when I introduced the guests to the Visioning Tree, which visually represented their intentions for 2021.
The roots = being
The trunk = feelings
The leaves = doing
This activity provoked a lot of movement as each guest added to their tree looked at my example and passed it around the table and talked to each other about what they were writing down.
4. Create contrast - plan in times for high energy movement contrasted with times for quiet self-reflection:
The three key peaks of positive energy and movement were contrasted with equal times of quiet contemplation as we worked through all the stages of the Appreciative Inquiry process. At this time, I take a step back and allow for that reflection time. This is when participants can get those valuable personal insights and what I like to call "light bulb moments."
5. Design mementos that keep the momentum of learning and reflection going long after the event:
Other terms that could be used for what I call mementos are keepsakes, prompts, aids. For this Connect & Reflect gathering I made each participant a bracelet to represent connect, a pocket mirror to represent reflection and a 2021 diary for looking ahead. Other items included an inspiring quote card, the question cards for each stage of the Appreciative Inquiry process so that they could go through the same process themselves in their own time.
So, my five tips for facilitating meaningful gatherings are:
Have a clear purpose
Empower your guests by giving them choice
Include peaks of positive energy
Create contrast (high energy vs quiet contemplation)
Design mementos that create momentum after the gathering