Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to see a blog-friend, Martin Röll, who has been visiting Boston and the US on business. The specific meeting point was an introductory session on the Art of Hosting conversations that matter.
One of the interesting things that this session reminded me of is that there are many ways to bring people together. I have recently been in the mode of "delivering knowledge," which often takes the form of sitting/standing in front of people and delivering slide-based conversations. The Art of Hosting concepts are very much based on bringing many more voices into the room - no one person has all the knowledge / skills / experience, and if the situation is arranged well, the collective voices could inspire even greater learning and experience.
The session leader took us through demonstrations of World Cafe, Open Space and Pro-Action Cafe. While I had experienced the first two, the last was new for me. All the approaches are geared around collective knowledge, the Pro-Action Cafe concept is geared around using the collective wisdom to ask interesting questions around a specific problem or challenge that someone might be having. The Pro-Action Cafe and the World Cafe demonstrations both highlighted the importance of crafting good questions. In particular, the World Cafe could really falter if the questions don't bring out that collective interest of people. The organizer recommended The Art of Powerful Questions by Vogt, Brown and Isaacs as a good primer.
The session was great food-for-thought on hosting meetings and events in general. For the types of activities I've been doing with clients, these techniques could be very useful in bringing more of the clients' knowledge and experience into the room.
Beth Tener wrote a more in depth article on the day and what we did, Enough Boring Meetings – A “Taster” to Explore the Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter.