For the most part, if you are reading this, you play a role in planning meetings and events both face-to-face and hybrid, and provide opportunities for meaningful dialogue. Why is this important? It is dialogue between human beings, sharing ideas, debating opinions, hearing other perspectives, analyzing our own responses to new ideas, and using these exchanges to understand and develop healthy approaches to diversity, collaboration and innovation that will continue to allow us to build communities – traditional by location, or global by association.
Designing events that foster exchanges is critical to moving society forward and always has been. From the beginning of time, we have relied on our community to collectively build shelter, to hunt and gather food, to provide human warmth during times of stress or grief, to play or compete, and to celebrate with. Groups travelled to trade goods from spices to cloth and furs to mercantile items. Royalty travelled from castle to farm taking households of hundreds through the lands they reigned over. Family travelled by foot, carriage and ship to both visit and begin new lives in new lands, often taking their customs and language with them as they settled, creating the mosaic of globalism that is now commonplace.
In life, we communicate through discussion both formal and informal, in person and via a variety of mediums, with music or dance, by sharing food and beverage, all of which build trust and create a base for moving forward. In meetings, there are many slogans applied to this – “When we meet we change the world” (MPI), “One World, One Hope” (XI International Conference on AIDS) are examples of the words used to describe the inherent power of bringing people together.
When you bring people together, what tools are you using to create dialogue? Is your meeting designed with both time and space to foster communication? Are your presenters delivering ideas which will inspire discussion? Assuming they are, what are you doing to continue the conversation?
Perhaps you are including small facilitated group discussions to contextualize the ideas during the session, or an opportunity for post session discussions for deeper dives into the topic or even longer breaks to allow for hallway conversations to develop. Maybe the flow through the space offers pockets where guests may sit or stand comfortably, perhaps with places to also recharge their mobile devices and where congregation is encouraged. On the leading edge, you may be using the power of a mobile app to foster connections and allow participants to find people they know, want to meet or perhaps share a link with via social networking, which may include adding networking spaces such as a Tweetup or LinkedIn café space where relationships build IRL (in real life).
Food and beverage is an oft neglected opportunity for creating a culture of dialogue. We eschew lines, worried that people will be unhappy in them, so why not add line ambassadors who are there to encourage discussion among line-mates, who may find they have commonalities, or whose differing opinions make for a lively discussion? We create majestic tables, or seat people at six-foot rounds, ensuring you can only speak easily to those directly beside you. Consider instead groups of five or six at smaller tables, where the whole group can more easily be engaged. Make the food and beverage integral to the experience; allow it to tell a story of the place, and allow this to act as a base to build upon.
All of these ideas allow you to build a culture of dialogue within your organization, and it is this culture which builds connections, creates loyalty and provides catalysts which allow you to capitalize on the strength of your community for future growth. What will you include at your next meeting? Comment below and let us know!