posted 26 May 2009 in Volume 12 Issue 7
The Gurteen perspective: Enabling conversation
David Gurteen explains why it’s important to ‘create a space’ for real conversation.
One of the reasons I started to run my knowledge cafés was in reaction to ‘death by PowerPoint’, ‘chalk and talk’, or ‘sit and git’ style presentations and talks.
These are endemic in conferences: the speaker has a fixed-time allocation to present, plus a short time for Q&A. Normally, he or she presents, runs over and eats into the Q&A segment, then a few questions are asked and answered and everyone goes home. Often only one or two questions are taken, as in answering a question the speaker will give a monologue for several minutes effectively destroying the Q&A time and ensuring no further questions are asked.
But it’s so easily avoidable. Let’s say a speaker has 40 minutes. He or she speaks for 20 minutes, 10 minutes is given over for conversation among the audience and then 10 minutes for Q&A. This is the format I work to when I chair conferences.
It works exceptionally well when people are sitting at roundtables but it is still easy to do when the participants are seated ‘lecture style’. People can just turn to each other in twos and threes and have a conversation.
At a conference some time ago, everyone was enjoying this innovation and I mentioned to a female participant that it was a shame the seating was lecture style – to which she replied “Oh no that’s an advantage as you can turn to different people each time and have different conversations”.
This is simple to do not only if you chair the conference, but also if you are a speaker yourself. Just explain what format you plan to follow to the chairperson beforehand. Then, keep your talk brief and allocate 10 minutes each for the Q&A and conversation times. Try it – it works a treat.
One of the great advantages of this style is that everyone gets the opportunity to engage and to express their opinions, even people who may be too shy to ask a question of the speaker. Also, someone might ask the group if they grasped, say, a key aspect of the speaker’s talk and when they realise that none of them understood it encourages one of them to ask the speaker to clarify the point.
You may be also sitting there totally agreeing with the speaker only to find that other people in your group see things quite differently. Or maybe you disagree with the speaker but others agree. So much learning can surface from such a short conversation.
But better still, think about how you can use this technique in your everyday business meetings. Again, too often, a senior manager will give a pitch and then ask for questions. There is no actual conversation or discussion.
A while back, a university department invited me to come and listen to proposals for two new MSc courses it was thinking of running. Each person spoke in turn and then my group asked questions about the courses and proffered suggestions. A traditional approach! But think how much more powerful that session would have been if people had been asked to have conversations at their tables before asking questions and offering suggestions. I am sure so many more good ideas would have been generated.
So think about how you could build more conversation into your everyday business meetings and not only make them more enjoyable, but also more creative and productive too!
David is founder of Gurteen Knowledge. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org