Closings: What’s the point?


October 28th, 2008

Both conferences I attended recently finished with Open Space, which meant the closing of the space and the conference happened at the same time using some variation of a ‘talking stick’ ritual: whoever has the stick talks, everyone else listens.

Inevitably people have to leave early – to catch flights, attend to other commitments, because they don’t like closings, would rather go shopping. It’s the effect of not participating in a closing that interests me rather than why. Whether voluntary or not, I wonder if it’s important.

Yesterday (or maybe it was the day before), I had to leave and couldn’t participate in the closing. Normally this wouldn’t bother me so much – I’ve even been known to skip out on closings for no good reason.

The closing of an event, no matter how it’s done, is a ritual of some sort. Rituals seem to be good if they are purposeful, annoying if they are habitual. So what is the purpose of closing an event or conference? I don’t think I have an answer, but when they are well done they seem to provide a punctuation mark or a book-end that contains the event. For me, sitting in a circle listening to the comments of others provides a way of reflecting on the experience and acknowledging the contribution of each individual. Often it’s emotional – which makes me feel uncomfortable. Sometimes it can go on way too long – which also makes me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t participate in the closing of the improv conference. Today I feel quite disconnected. I don’t know if that’s to do with ‘unfinished business’ or simply because I’m now in a completely different time zone. There is a strong feeling of having ‘missed out on something’ – a shared experience.

In recording a podcast on people’s experiences of both the Taiwan and Chicago conferences, a common theme of community emerged. There is something very comforting about being with people who share commonality (facilitation, improvisation) – it’s the reason why jargon quickly develops amongst groups and professions. A sort of short-hand. Which I guess raises question of inclusion and exclusion. Inclusive, welcoming, sharing – all words used to describe people’s experiences. Great! And what about people who don’t feel those? I remember my first (and second, and to a lesser extent third) improv conferences where I felt a complete fish out of water. I hung in there because I had fun playing with improv, liked the people, and had a lot to learn – and it wasn’t SO uncomfortable that it was a chore.

Which brings me back to purposeful versus habitual closings. Any closing could provide any of the following. The trick is to be sure you have a purpose, and then select a method that helps fulfill that purpose.

What closings can do for a group:

  • provides a space for reflection
  • clearly identifies the end, when it’s over
  • bridges the event with the ordinary world
  • reflects the values of the group
  • provides a space to acknowledge contributions

What else? What have I missed?

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