What is the ONE huge mistake that organisers of community meetings make?


November 14th, 2013

Last night I attended a community meeting. It was great. Lots of really useful information and a great simulation activity to enable all of us to relate to our own situation. Sure the powerpoint had bullets and the handout was a copy of the slides (why that matters is the whole point of Insanely Great Slideshow Presentations). I’ve seen a lot worse though, so a small quibble. The facilitators were engaging and the presenters were knowledgable. I did smile to myself when the facilitator gave us some instructions for a discussion, and we did exactly as we pleased – it was still ‘on topic’ – just not what she had suggested we do. How often that happens! Did it matter? Not a bit.

There really is a lot to notice when seeing another facilitator in action. Towards the end, our facilitator asked if we had any insights to share. The gap between asking the question and then making another statement was 2 seconds! (Yep, I timed it!) This is barely time for people to process the question let alone answer it. I’m sure it felt a lot longer up the front – I’ve been there, I know how time morphs into something else when standing in front of a group. What we experienced as 2 seconds, our facilitator probably thought was a different amount of time altogether.

Johnnie refers to this here and it’s why we often practice being in front of a group and doing nothing.

And nor did they make any of the other common mistakes of community meetings.

We had something to do on arrival (rather than all sit/stand around staring at each other). We had name tags (helpful for those faces I recognised that I couldn’t put a name to). It wasn’t all talking heads. There was a relevant activity. There was the slow reveal (which kept us interested and engaged). There were refreshments. There was a friendly vibe. They finished on time.

But they made one huge mistake.

Can you guess what it was?

If you’re a regular reader of this blog it should be obvious.

It was the room set-up.

They set the room up with large oblong tables in a classroom style for 18 people.

Yikes!

That pretty much filled up the available space.

When more than double that many people turned up (not an uncommon thing to happen at a community meeting) they had to scramble for more chairs and there was hardly any space to put them. People seated at tables had no chance of moving. The tables had foldable legs (yes, I checked – I’m like that!) and could have easily been stacked away. You could only talk to the person next to you, probably the person you came with, or one or two others. No chance for sociometry. No chance for mingling – because there was no space to do so. Pity. It detracted from an otherwise fabulous meeting.

Facilitating is not just what you do in front of the group, it’s the whole experience you provide. And that includes the space and how it is used.

I’ll say it again – no, I’ll shout it out loud – GET RID OF THE TABLES!

If you organise meetings of any sort, you might be interested in this.

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