A Couple of weeks ago I was MC at the Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa’s Chapter meeting in Johannesburg. There were two speaking slots lined up.
The first speaker was knowledgeable and interactive, but was missing the mark with the audience. While certain individuals seemed to gain from it the overall feeling was of frustration and disappointment.
How did I know this? Because I know the value of voiced experience, I also asked for direct feedback during the tea break.
I knew that these feelings will cloud their experience of the second session and probably of the association in general. So, as the break ended and people settled back into the room (some displaying obvious body language of scepticism), I asked them to tear off a page from their note books and evaluate the speaker the just presented. They could write comments and make suggestions if they choose and it can be anonymous.
I also asked them to volunteer as speakers for future meetings on a separate piece of paper.
At the end of the second session (which was received far more positively) I asked them to comment on their experience of the evening with one word.
Among comments relating to the content of the second session, there were also comments like: I experienced ‘community’. ‘validation’ and ‘see you again’. Overall ratings showed that the meeting was a success in spite of the first speaker missing the mark.
Poles and pie charts
Allowing the audience to evaluate their experience using a pole or simple 5 point scale is a very effective way to let them voice mixed feelings. If you can make the pole or survey public, it is even more effective. This is because the individual can immediately see where his or her experience fits in with everyone else’s. It is always useful: those who are in the majority feel validated, and thos in the minority can see their experience is different from the others which helps to relativise it. This is only true, of course, if the feedback is anonymous, else people feel put on the spot – this can hurt your message greatly.
But you do not necessary have to poll obvious positives or negatives. It is just as interesting and perhaps more fun to poll things that are neutral and related to your topic: : how many hours do you spend on social media, How many meetings do you attend in one week? Whatever you poll, it is always important to let people comment on where they place themselves, should they choose to. This brings out interesting mixed feeling responses healthy for the audience and filled with things you can build your message on.
There are a number of great apps that allow people to poll there and then using their cell-phones. An experiential method is to let people create a physical continuum in the room by drawing a line through the centre of the room and asking people to stand on the continuum where they position themselves. Remember to ask if anyone would like to comment on their position. If the poll is really open ended, this creates much connection and debate.
Peter Block, writer of Flawless Consulting and Community the Structure of Belonging, writes that one of the essential conversations (there are six of them) is the Dissent conversation about doubts and reservations. He explains that the mere question: What doubts and reservations arise for you around this issue? IS enough to help people overcome their doubts. Just like talking about what things in a consulting relationship may cause distrust can build trust.
“ If you can’t say no, your yes has no meaning.” Peter Block
Give people a chance to express their doubts and reservations, as a way of clarifying their roles, needs and yearnings within the vision and mission. Genuine commitment begins with doubt, and no is an expression of people finding their space and role in the strategy. Again, this is more effective if you can let them share in small groups or pairs before feeding back to big audience.
An Applied Improvisation Exercise
A fun and very successful exercise is one we call ‘The Rant’.
Ask participants to pair up and sit in chairs facing each other. Tell them to think of something that really irritates them. Each participant then gets a chance to rant about this frustration for 2 minutes while their partner just listens. Tell them to fill the whole 2 minutes with their ranting. The listener’s task is to listen past the frustration for the underlying value that is really important to the speaker. After the 2 minutes are done the listener responds with the words “I hear you really care about…” The value that the listener listens for must be something positive. For example if the speaker rants about how she hates it when people are late, the listener shouldn’t say “I hear you really care about people not being late”. The right response could be “I hear you really care about respecting someone else’s time”.
For debriefing questions go to http://www.playingmantis.net/the-rant/
Allow people to air their missed feelings about the ideas you propose and you build trust, connection and enthusiasm for your message.