To gain a dynamic and flexible process, you need to think about the infrastructure. From numbers of toilets over how the refreshments are served to how you want people to move around during the day.
This setup is for when you are working with large groups and want to get away from the stiff setup conferences often have; the endless rows of seats that make people an anonymous herd driven through the day, exhausted and disoriented at the end of it.
Well, actually you do want them to be a controlled herd; after all you want to get the most out of all their juicy brains gathered in the room. And you want them too, to get the most out of being together. But there are less boring, more humane and fun ways to do that, not only for you, but also for the people participating.
Having used this format for many years now, one of the reasons is that it has a fantastic structure that lets you loosen up when you have lots of time, but also lets you tighten the process to make sure you manage your program well.
Nature is controlling you, you know…
It is absolutely no fun to stand in a long line of people waiting to get to the loo. You know the break is 20 or maybe 30 minutes long, and you also need to get refreshments and share some reflections with colleagues and network.
The last thing you want is to spend 15 minutes in a toilet, not even if you’re standing in the same line as the ones you were hoping to get to talk to during the break. It’s first of all not certain that they are within talking distance, and an obstructive thing like a full bladder doesn’t exactly invite to clear thinking.
Make sure simple things like access to toilets is made easy. If you are unsure whether there are enough to accommodate a proper flow during the breaks (I’m not speaking literally here), then ask for directions to other toilets further away, and make clear signs for participants, i.e. arrows with walking distance in minutes.
You might think it’s silly to read about this – perhaps to you – obvious planning detail, but toilets, next to not enough coffee, are the most common reasons for why you fall behind schedule. You would much rather want to fall behind schedule because of good questions leading to good, engaging conversations that make people refuse to follow your time plan. That is struggling with success, and may not be easier, but definitely nicer to think back on afterwards.
Waterholes and refuelling The Big Brain
As I said coffee (and other kinds of refreshments) are time consuming but necessary ingredients in a good process.
Make sure that you have several “watering holes” in the room. This means tables with refreshments that people can pick up whenever they need them. Make sure that these tables are accessible from all sides. Having refreshment tables up against a wall is highly inefficient. And when all your good questions start to effect your participants, they need valuable fuel for their reflections and insightful dialogues, and that has often proved to be coffee. Loads of coffee. Believe me.
People engaged in a good, deep, motivated dialogue are dangerous when they want coffee and don’t get it. That being said, you don’t need to make it fancy or expensive. With just coffee, tea, water and fruits, you are ready to go long distance.
It just has to be organised such that participants can arrange it themselves at the tables, for instance that they can take jugs of water to their tables and make plates of fruits for themselves. This way of (self) organising the refreshments during the day gives you two positive side effects:
√ People move their bodies
Just getting up for 2 minutes stretching your legs on the way to the refreshments makes a world of difference.
√ People take care of their own needs
Instead of getting served, the participants have access to and get used to self-organising through the day. All of a sudden you will experience that if something isn’t working, the participants will solve the issue without your assistance.
Are participants getting lunch or dinner during the event? The same rules apply. Make buffets served on several “islands” and serve something delicious but simple. This gives people more time for informal conversations or networking, or just resting their brains after you have been sucking insights out of them all morning or all afternoon.