With the good intention of ‘being inclusive,’ meeting organizers sometimes propose dynamics that are more boring than productive.
Some typical examples of these mistaken practices include:
- A round of introductions in which each of the 100 participants say their names and what they expect from the event (one hour or more in total).
- Discussions in which one participant after another is asked to express their opinion on a subject, even though many repeat what others already have said.(If there are 20 people, this could go on for 30-45 minutes.)
- Each one of 35 experts is given five minutes to make a PowerPoint presentation in plenary (almost 3 hours in total), with no time for discussion or questions.
The error in these examples lies in the belief that requiring everyone to speak, one by one, IN PLENARY, is a show of respect that will create a feeling of belonging to the large group.
The truth is that after the first few interventions, participants stop paying attention. Although they remain seated in their places, they do not take in new information. They do not remember what colleagues have said. They get distracted and endure the situation until the seemingly interminable activity comes to an end.
As group facilitators, we have the opportunity —and the responsibility— to question these practices and propose alternatives.
Here are some options:
Introductory rounds in groups with more than 12 people
- Introduce and integrate. Ask that only new members introduce themselves in plenary and then integrate them into small, mixed groups (veterans and new arrivals) for a discussion of a burning question to which they all contribute.
- Move! Propose a dynamic that is performed standing, preferably with motion. For example, play music with the instruction that everyone walks randomly. When the music stops, each participant introduces himself or herself to the person who is standing closest.
- Listen, pause, summarize. Give the floor to 4-5 people and then pause and summarize. Then ask if anyone has a different perspective from those already expressed. Repeat until no new ideas emerge. Identify the areas where there is apparent agreement and where there are divergent points of view. Work with the group to decide on the next steps.
- Non-verbal survey of preferences. Write all the ideas under discussion in legible print on flip chart sheets. Then give participants one or more sticky dots, and ask them to affix the dot(s) next to the option(s) that they like most. (This may be done also drawing a ? instead of using the sticky dots.) Review the results in plenary and work with the group to decide the next steps.
- Work in small groups. Ask groups of 3-6 participants to share ideas and then emit a collective opinion.
Presentations from many experts
- Breakout session. Group the experts by topic and ask that they share their knowledge with each other and with other interested attendees in a breakout session.
- Art gallery. Ask the experts to prepare a summary of the main concepts they want to share (preferably with pictures) and mount them on 50 x 70 cm posters. Then the experts stand next to their posters and answer questions from the rest of the participants who tour the exhibits as if they were in an art gallery.
In summary, do not oblige participants to suffer through long, plenary sessions in which their principal contribution is to listen. A much more inclusive and productive strategy is to give people the opportunity to express their opinions in small groups, working on a subject of common interest and then merge those contributions in plenary.