The expert in the room

I’m putting a menu together for a future workshop.  Lately I find myself using the word menu rather than agenda as it seems to assist me (the facilitator) and those in the room to approach the gathering in a position of choice.  Some parts of the menu are blank.  Carrying the metaphor a little further (and perhaps a little clumsily), it allows anyone or all to ask if there might be something else that might emerge from the kitchen.  Only in this kitchen, everyone is a chef.

In this case, the invitees are eager for information.  Many of them have already posed questions for which they want answers.  This presumes an expectation of the experts in the room.  It sets a scene that, without a big stir of the pot (sorry!), will too readily turn into a question and answer workshop.  And that is not what I’m after for them.

The experts (the client) are keen to share their knowledge.  Fortunately they are also keen to avoid setting up dependencies – both during the workshop and into the future.

I have some thoughts about how we might begin.  I’m wondering if anyone has any stories of workshops where experts shared their knowledge in a group without resorting to the pulpit.

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2 comments until now

  1. Lynn – you might want to look at the approach I’ve described in my book “Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love”. The core goal of this meeting design is to create the best possible experience for each participant.

    I start with a process that makes no assumptions about who the experts are but uncovers the topics, questions, experience, and expertise of each member of the group. Next, is a structured sign-up process where participants essentially determine and optimize what they will spend their time together doing, together with a format that makes most sense.

    The process whereby the group creates its own appropriate sessions and formats via the structured process I’ve outlined optimizes participant engagement. Although not forbidden, it’s rare to see a straight presentation + Q&A session. Facilitated small group discussions are far more common.

    After the conference sessions are over, I include a couple of closing sessions—a personal introspective and a group spective—which allow participants to process, first individually and then as a group, their meeting experience.

    This brief description probably raises more questions than it answers. There’s an expanded description of Conferences That Work on my website.

    I’ve been running (and refining) these conferences for twenty years now, and, invariably, participants are discovered who, unknown to the organizers, have valuable contributions to make. I love to see this happen.

    Thanks for this Adrian. I definitely have your book on my purchase list. Cheers, Lynn

  2. Hi Lynn,

    Having read Adrian’s comment, perhaps my experience is a pale shadow of what he expects: I ask the ‘information givers’ to keep their formal presentation as short as possible, with plenty of time for questions, with the observation that “you’ll be surprised how little you have to say, to trigger really interesting and intelligent questions which open up the subject in a way which follow’s participants’ interests.”

    I also pose a question, with lots of timetabled time: “What else do you think we need to remind ourselves of about X, before we move on to [whatever the generative part of the meeting is]?”

    I came to this formulation because it leaves room for both obscure information and well-known information, and it also leaves room for perspectives (opinions) as well as ‘facts’.

    Room set-up can also help break down the ‘podium’ idea of experts as separate and other. Circles, or cabaret style set-up, and no ‘top table’ really help.

    Thank you Penny. I really like what you say to experts/presenters. And the phrase – leave room for. “What can we leave room for?”

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