To Run Better Meetings, Groups, Clubs & Classes
ever had the experience of having something important to say but
no opportunity to say it? How easy or hard is it for you to really
hear and respond to what someone else is saying while
you're sitting there seething with your own thwarted urgent contribution?
--Same for your participants. Every time you've done your job as
chair or moderator so well that your people have gotten interested
and involved, you inflict that perception-inhibiting frustration
on your brighter members and in direct proportion to the degree
that each has something important to contribute!
your students! Every time you've done your job so well that your
lecture starts to get interesting, you inflict that perception-inhibiting
frustration on your brighter students and on your class generally!
In a corporation
where time is money, how much time is wasted in board and staff
meetings, either in lengthy discourse by the chair or CEO while
expensive specialists and executives sit mute, or in pre-orchestrated
speech presentations whose "discussion" outcome was determined
long since, or in a chaos ended only when the chair or CEO goes
out and either does things himself or by dictate, dismissing 99%
of all that was said at the meeting? Or where everyone is saying
only what the chair or CEO wanted to hear, providing no meaningful
feedback or direction?
follow in summary a very few, very simple provisions through which
you can build interest, sustain tight topical focus, while
fostering dynamic expressive interaction which wonderfully integrates
and develops your group's various perceptions and perceivers. You
will find that you can maintain a stronger, better topical focus
WITH these interactive group-managing techniques than you can sustain
now in solo lecture! This is not loose soft-minded stuff about letting
students or employees or members express themselves; this is highly
efficient group, boardroom or classroom MANAGEMENT. Here, then,
is a very easy, very real way to discover and focus your people's
(your people's!) very real genius:
Format fits comfortably with and can benefit most other group
methods and procedures. It can turn miraculously productive all
kinds of group meeting, from classroom (and even faculty meetings!!!!!)
to board room to sales meeting to Town Hall and civic clubs.
will enable you to easily get the members of your group actively,
richly exploring, debating, investigating and relating to any
topic or issue, yet staying far better focused than can the most
forceful lecture or most rigorous use of Robert's Rules. Dynamic
Format helps your participants to participate without
getting in each other's way or in your way. Dynamic Format
is a set of very simple managing techniques to conduct the transaction
of information and/or decision with maximum sensitivity and breadth
of consideration and perception, quickly, crisply, in depth but
efficiently. (Doesn't sound like meetings you've been in before,
does it? We've all heard the old joke about an hippopotamus being
an animal designed by committee, meaning that group outcomes normally
are a joke or come out close to being the lowest common denominator.
Getting genius from such a group?!? Unthinkable! --But within
a page or so you'll be seeing how to do so...
"house rules" of Dynamic Format enable your people
to be interactive, thoughtful, perceptive, expressive, comprehensive,
and yet to maintain a tight, clear, progressing focus on your topic.
Dynamic Format allows a group to move deftly, crisply and
quickly, without heavy-handed directing and without having to wander
Here is how
to bring about these and other desirable effects from a group meeting-----
any group of more than 5-6 participants to subdivide at the start
of your session, so each is already in place with his or her partner(s)
on a stand-by basis so you can move swiftly and smoothly and deftly
in and out of the interactive mode when you come to the point in
your session where you want to use it. Have your people stay oriented
with their partner(s) even while functioning in your larger (plenary)
group. This way, when you want to switch modes, no logistics are
required and you are free to move crisply between levels of interaction
as well as from step to step, or into interaction and crisply back
to formal lecture or other formal process.
can be pairs, or threes, or you can have "buzz groups"
consisting of as many as 5-6 participants, depending upon what you
want to do with them. Each participant in a pair has more "air
time" in which to examine and describe what s/he is perceiving
in the context of the defined topic or question. The larger the
group, the more chance that someone in it will catch on to what
you want and model how it is done. The more difficult your question
or task, therefore, the larger you want your groups up to a maximum
of six to ensure that someone there in each group will be able to
comprehend and get things moving as you want. Most of the time,
to get the maximum of Socratic benefit, you will want to work your
participants within pairs. You can even have your participants,
as this writer has often done with his participants in his workshops
and teachings, orient in pairs within larger sub-groups of
4 to 6 members.
the very start of such a session, set up at least some of the following
"Core Agreements" or "house rules for this
session," to make it easy for you to swiftly and gently guide
and focus or refocus your people into, through, and out of highly
involved, highly interactive "buzz-sessions:"
Rules--the waterglass, ashtray or chime which can be heard easily
when everyone is talking at the same time--so your voice won't have
to compete with all the other voices---
= Instant Pause In Talking. Rule: the moment you hear 3 'bings,'
pause in talking not only in mid-sentence but in mid-word
so that you and others can hear the next topical question or step
= half-minute's notice, before the 3-binger. Rule: keep on doing
what you are presently doing but be ready a half minute after
this one 'bing' to pause in talking to hear the next instruction.
GBD.com without it costing you a dime. Learn
= Instant Talk-Pause + Hand Up, this simple device often used
by the Scouts. This is best for very large groups, of one hundred
or more members. Rule: the instant you notice either the leader's
hand go up or other people's hands going up, pause instantly in
your talking and get your own hand up!) (On-off flicks of the room
lighting can serve the same purpose.)
CHALLENGE--make a triangle of your thumbs and fore-fingers,
sight at the speaker through that triangle. Rule: on that instant,
whoever is speaking must (1) demonstrate how his/her remarks
relate to the topic; or (2) return to the topic; or (3) yield the
floor. Instantly. (How many times have you been reluctant to shut
off someone's story but had to stand there bleeding internally while
s/he got further and further off the subject and broke the context?!?)
You can see
how, with just a little simple pre-arrangement, major group dynamics
can be set in motion or stopped, directed, focused, how you can
orchestrate them to maximum effect in terms of learning or of meeting-goal.
Simple arrangement of easily used hand signals as standing rules
or agreements allows you to orchestrate a wide range of group behaviors
virtually without effort or delay. On the same principle, from time
to time you may want to set up these special-occasion rules for
Rule, used to obtain creative production, fresh ideas and perceptions,
innovations, and answers to questions or issues whose outcome is
not narrowly predetermined. To get more and better ideas contributed,
the first response to the contributing of an idea should be a positive
reinforcement. However off-the-wall an idea or input may seem at
first, the first response to it must be some form of meaningful,
content-related support! After that meaningful first
support, then it's o.k. to carve that weird notion into corned
beef hash, so long as the support came first. Every major system
of creative problem solving has some form of this rule; to use it
effectively, simply put it in this form:
you observe an idea not getting supported first, whether
yours or someone else's, clasp your hands together over your
head for a second or so while looking wistfully upward, then
b. Note: the
best ideas usually are those which were greeted first with a burst
of laughter. You may wish to give those laugh-burst ideas special
attention. In any case, make sure that the first response to whatever
input positively reinforces that act of creating and contributing
ideas and fresh perceptions. Win your way past the usual reflexive
self-censorings which stifle creative thought and perceptiveness.
c. Don't use
this support-first rule where you don't want richly expansive creativity,
multiple considerations, and enthusiastic participant expression.
limit (or 4, or 2, or simply a 1-minute limit per input, depending
upon the size of group and the nature of the process you are working.
Once this rule is invoked, any time you notice someone going beyond
the set limit, simply lean forward with hands clasped in front
of the Run-Pasts! This corrects the main frustration about any
group discussion or process which gets interesting enough to provoke
a lot of desire to participate. Rule: Anything you notice that
seems worthy of mention, but which the group process (or lecturer!)
has stampeded past: make a written note or record of
it, immediately! So reinforce YOUR OWN perceiving of overlooked
aspects, not merely just that particular point! (--And clear
the traffic jam in your perceptions between what you have to say
and giving more attention to what others are saying now!--and if
others also follow this Record Run-Pasts Rule, your inputs
when you do get to make them will receive attention.
is a chance before the end to pick some of these points back
up and consider them--but the main purpose of this rule is to reinforce
your own perceptiveness and integrity of view. Any time you
notice someone else seething with an overrun point, point
to his or her notepad and waggle pen or pencil at it.
An Aside: A Lecture to Teachers--
The lecture method was invented for the situation, back in the Dark
Ages before printing, when only one copy of some book would be at
the university, and the most qualified person would both read from
it to the class and lecture based upon it, for the benefit of all
the students who otherwise had no access to that book and its contents.
A few of the relevant circumstances have changed since then! Some
churches and most schools have continued the practice, though--all
most classrooms need to become a religious service is a hymn or
Even if you
are wedded to the lecture method and have never "buzzed a group"
in your life, you can experiment just a little. Identify the key
point you've just been trying to make in your lecture, and instruct
your students to "turn to your partner(s) (or "the person
next to you" if you've not pre-set the class) and, between
you, let's see which pair of you can come up with the best statement
of this issue." (Or turn your main point into a question and
ask that question.)
* Get them
started. (By look or persuasion, make sure all are participating.)
* Allow 3-4 minutes.
* 'Bing' and state the half-minute's notice.
* Sound your waterglass, cup or ashtray three gentle 'bings' to
end the "buzz."
* Sound out (and give at least a little somewhat positive reinforcement
to) each of a few pairs' wording of the issue (or answer), reinforce
from there the point you were making, and move on.
Now, that wasn't
too hard, was it? --And easier to do next time. Courage, there:
for lo, you soon can be effortlessly moving your students in and
out of interactive process, and through different levels of process,
with amazingly well-focused discussions, like a master conductor
directs his well-trained orchestra! Yes, you!
If you are
shy about it, test out these rules one step at a time until you
feel them working for you and you see and are pleased with
the results - especially pleased with what you see happening with
your students, as you manage your classroom into ever more excellent
topical focus and intensity.
what value even the most eloquent lecture, if little is learned
from it? What matters in the classroom is what is learned, not what
is taught. Dynamic Format lets you have it both ways.
Beyond the classroom: The Board Room, the Clubhouse, City Hall:
Robert's Rules of Order were designed to shut down communications
within a group so that business can be transacted. The too-typical
result leads to the joke about the hippopotamus being an animal
designed by a committee. Dynamic Format, instead, elicits
focused communications in a way which causes the business transacted
to reflect the highest considerations and actual genius of the group!
group! Once you learn how to tap, focus and direct its very real
resources, you have some extraordinarily pleasant surprises coming
annual business meetings of societies, faculty or staff meetings,
planning groups, task forces, town meetings, etc., are just as appropriate
for this set of focusing strategies. This form of participant involvement,
fostering expression from each participant's own perceptions while
sustaining a tight topical focus, yields results far superior to
those of the methods historically or currently in general use. Any
corporation, society, committee, task force or staff can immediately,
easily and sharply improve its performance and product.
the Mental Traffic Jam:
a la Dynamic Format, enabling everyone to get in his
say and go on, as previously noted clears a mental traffic jam so
that deliberations can move forward and each participant be fully
and productively engaged. Instead of sitting there seething with
things to say and mentally rehearsing what he's going to say until
he can grab the floor, each participant fully expresses himself
and is freed to listen, as well as to move forward in his
thoughts and perceptions. Beyond that effect--
was among the first to discover that to describe a perception develops
that perception further. The original schools, in classical Greece,
were set up not for the benefit of students, but to provide quality
audiences for the leading thinkers and perceivers to describe their
perceptions to. Socratic method is a set of techniques for
getting participants to examine their inner and/or outer perceptions
and to describe in detail what they discover there.
peak learning experiences and "Socratic miracle leaps"
phenomena which frequently occur with this kind of process, no less
than the insights come up with on the couch of a good psychologist,
are now easily understood in terms of modern psychology's most widely
accepted or "first law: You get more of what you reinforce."
Each time you describe one of your own perceptions, you--
that particular perception, discovering more and more about it,
sometimes until it seems that you're perceiving the whole universe
2. You reinforce
the behavior of being perceptive!
This is why
groups conducted extensively through Dynamic Format, where each
participant not only "gets his say" without slowing one-another
down, but describes enough from his own perceptions to expand those
perceptions, deepen his insight, and also is freed to listen further,
not only perform so much better but increasingly better than do
groups conducted through conventional meeting methods.
had to teach us the American-discovered technique of product quality
control. Can we teach ourselves this form of meeting quality
control, which may well prove to be of far greater significance
to us all? You have the above simple instructions in hand, and enough
information about them to devise your own "Dynamic Format"
rules should you need different ones. The rest is up to you.
©1998 by Project Renaissance (regarding this internet version
only, other copyrights may apply). While we encourage the free distribution
of this article (complete text only, including this notice and acknowledgement
of source), we do require that expressed permission be granted by
Project Renaissance for any major republication. For minor printing
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reach Win Wenger, please visit his website at Project
on the latest Double Festival is available here.
originally published on Anakin's
Brain (now Genius By Design)