When organizing a typical 3 day youth meeting, here are some critical aspects to make the most of the “face time”
A. Pre Event
- Sharing participant intros with each other
- Connecting them on a group (or giving them tribes already to mix them up)
- Sharing the agenda and opening it up for inputs / reflections
- Communicating updates regularly
- CLEARLY giving logistics out
- Having a registration that is both warm and very clear (about facilities, toilets, spaces for convening)
- Clarity on HOW WILL TIME BE TREATED (flexi or fixed) among organizers and participants
B. Day 0
- Participants arriving previous night will be fresh and ready to begin. However if arrivals are in the morning of Day 1 then a good time to start is about 11 am
- Depending on the formality of the event, a welcome kit with a badge, program and notepad are always nice to give the ‘feel’ of a conference. On the other hand if its informal, a hug and a greeting flies too.
- Waivers of liability become really important in international conferences where cultural differences can give rise to issues of harassment etc. Hence both health insurance / facilities and waiver that releases organizers from laibilities signed by everyone (including volunteers) is crucial.
- This is also an important day to brief volunteers and have an organizer’s huddle (where only the core team sits, prays and strengthens its energy for the event)
C. Day 1
- Opening Circle : Fun and music, as non verbal as possible (especially in large groups) to loosen up the energy. In smaller groups, maybe a sentence or two to bring in each voice.
- A good upbeat way to start is always games and music (group singing particularly) builds common spirit.
- This is also a good time to share very briefly the voice of the founder or an elder to get the spirit going (lighting the lamp by different people is also both symbolic and powerful)
D. Tea Break(s)
- We can be greedy about tea breaks and make them short but I strongly advice against that!
- The break is where a lot of digesting happens — allow it the time it needs (30 mins)
- You can combine these with requests from participants to spend time in silence, continue conversations in their groups (if they want to) etc.
- Similarly post tea maybe a good time to actually debrief the pre-tea activity (each session is to end on a cliff hanger that brings people onto the next one)
E. Morning session — Day 1
- If you have a luxury of the morning session, its a fresh time to share the history and context of the journey so far, why did the event come about and introduce the organizers.
- You can also bring a few participant voices to share what brings them here
- This session’s most important part is SETTING EXPECTATIONS — both of participants and of organizers (voiced in form of rules and regulations which must be discussed and collectively agreed on)
- Again a touchy topic cos post lunch is gonna be sleepy — so either quick crisp 45 min lunches or a 2 hour one that lets you rest (especially in climates that are not so good and friendly)
- Here again is the time for people to mingle and digest stuff — so if charts are visible (of expectations or material about the organization, books etc) they are likely to be browsed through
- Organizers or volunteers serving is a good start so that by Day 3 the serving moves to the participants!
- Acknowledging kitchen and cleaning staff up front (or at the end or both) is essential — we are living off their work and so must acknowledge them personally or collectively.
G. The core event begins : Day 1 H2
- Day 1 second half begins the core event — it is here that breakouts can start happening
- Post lunch has to be energizing (activity or breakout) or totally chilled out (like a film where back benchers can doze off)
- Impractical to expect energy to stay constant, so okay to let it dip a bit in the noons
H. The overlooked parts : Evenings and nights
For some reason organizers don’t pay attention to “night” times where actually the real bonding and sharing happens. It is here that one can experiment with small fires for fireside stories, mushairas, singing etc.
Day 1 evening is great for games (to further open up) and day 1 night will have to be masti led by the organizers to set the pace, tone and informality.
You HAVE to request participants to hit bed early cos they are tired and Day 2 is fairly important.
At this stage you have had a good day 1 — it is time for an organizers huddle to reflect on the day and changes to be made. Good to bring in voices of some participants too!
(I shall cover day 2 and 3 in two more posts in the series)
Z. Very important
- CHOICE is everything — the more choice you give participants, the less “violent” it becomes and yet, at the same time without a structure time flows away. This is a balancing act
- LOGISTICS is often ignored and can make or break the event. It is good to build redundancy here — multiple mics (they discharge fast), laptops, connectors, projectors (best to test them the day before)
- MUSIC & SOUND — particularly translation, mics (especially chordless ones always get discharged). Getting the sound guy on your side can work miracles, so can having a great collection of background music + tracks (mix of old Hindi and new peppy) works well.
- THE FEEL — the space MUST have organic life…plants and flowers make it come alive, rangolis bring organizers together into something non verbal, making the space warm (with curtains etc) and GETTING THE TEMPERATURE OF THE ROOM RIGHT is crucial
- FOOD unfortunately can make or break an event — often events are remembered by the food that was served, so setting expectations clearly and upfront helps.
Overall, running a great meeting or facilitating a workshop is an art and science that goes way deeper than it seems!