A handful of online learning sessions with expert facilitators Amy Climer and Chad Littlefield added a few more tricks to my repertoire. The two modeled a handful of get ‘em talking techniques and conversation starters that I’ll be happy to replicate at my next session, live or online! Hopefully, they’ll do the trick for you too.
Chad credited Priya Parker, author of The Art of Gathering with saying, “If you can get people to use their larynx in the first 5-7% of the gathering, they’re more likely to use it in the rest of the 95% of the event.” The challenge for facilitators, therefore, is to get people to speak as quickly as possible in any meeting or gathering where participation is essential. Here are a few tips to help make it happen:
Tell the group you’re all going to try to “break Zoom.” Invite everyone to unmute themselves. Then, when you say, “go,” ask everyone to say hello at the same time, in whatever language you prefer. 3-2-1-GO. If you’re meeting in person, you can try the same thing. Say “hello” to the group and insist on a greeting back from everyone. If the group is too quiet, say “That was lame, let’s try it again!” Alternatively, make it a game, performance-style: “When I say ‘hey’ you say ‘ho.’ Hey … Ho… Hey … Ho.”
Polling tools can make it super easy for every person to engage. Additionally, the facilitator and participants get a snapshot of the whole group. For further give and take later in the session, the facilitator can refer back to the survey/polling results or ask the participants to reflect on the results.
Ask participants to find and open the Chat field. Start with an easy question in Chat. For example, you might ask, “What is one of your favorite topics of conversation.” NOTE: any time you ask for a “favorite,” be sure to say “one of your favorites,” as that makes questions much easier to answer.
Either, have everyone respond and “send” their response when they’re ready.
Instead of sending responses when each person is ready, try a “chat storm” instead:
If, at some point during the session, you invited participants to type in their title and organization. Later on, you might encourage them to take a moment to look up and down the chat for someone whose profile intrigues them. Welcome them to consider that person a secret buddy. Moreover, at the end of the session, suggest that participants share their LinkedIn profiles, in case they want to connect with those buddies down the road.
After getting folks to utter their first words and make basic connections, you might look for ways to deepen the conversation — online or face-to-face. You can accomplish this with a thoughtful question, image, or quotation. Because the success of your effort may lie in the prompt that you use, take time to consider it fully or draw from a deck of carefully curated questions such as the UNZIP-it! Decks or WeConnect Cards.
Images, photographic or illustrated like Climer Cards, can also lead to wonderfully rich conversations. As Daniel Pink, NYT best-selling author, said, “If a picture is worth a thousand words, a metaphor is worth a thousand pictures.” Indeed, images and metaphors – comparisons between two things that aren’t alike but have some things in common – are incredibly powerful because they allow speakers to:
While a good selection of images will do most of the work, these prompts will help participants draw the most out of them:
A few more quick reminders, to enhance your gathering and promote the exchange of ideas:
Before launching into a conversation starter exercise, with the hope of deep conversation, be sure to set expectations and remind them that they always have complete agency in terms of how they answer a question. Explain, “You have 100% choice in how you answer a question. When you see a question or prompt, you can reply in any way that feels safe:
Many feel more comfortable sharing in small, more private, and intimate groups. Whether you’re gathering in person or online, it’s easy to structure activities to facilitate small-group sharing.
With so much talk about the epidemic of loneliness and crises in mental health, the more we can do to share more honestly and more deeply with our fellow humans, the better. Let’s take time to use questions to build relationships, understanding, and community. Thanks to Amy Climer and Chad Littlefield for their inspiration!