When I am not in my office working with my psychotherapy clients, you can often find me designing and facilitating a whole range of virtual and in-person gatherings, both locally and abroad. I think about gatherings, even in the psychotherapy setting, as moments in peoples’ lives. We gather all the time to mark and create special moments – from celebrations to commemorations; to learn and to share; for rituals and milestones; for friendship and for community. But beyond the specific nature of the gatherings, I think even more about the responsibility we bear, as the custodians of such gatherings, to ensure (to the best of our ability) that they are enriching moments that meaningfully impact peoples’ lives.
Whether you’re an event manager, a conference convenor, a meeting host, a program planner, an address for a warm Shabbat meal, a social organiser, as assembler of minds, a community planner or any other form of gathering facilitator, I think of you as a Moment Maker. You are in the business of creating moments (hopefully special ones) in peoples’ lives; and because we share this passion, I thought to share with you 6 of my guiding ideas and principles for creating meaningful and impactful moments – moments that we wish could last forever.
Begin with the end
Start by asking yourself where you’d like your gathering to land. What sort of journey would you like your participants to go on; how would you like them to feel; what do you hope they’ll achieve by the end of the experience? Beginning with the end in mind helps you to set clear intentions for your gathering by thinking expansively and dreaming boldly around your desired outcomes. And once this is clear, you can then work backwards to determine what steps and stages you need to put in place in order to arrive out that destination. When we begin with the end in mind, we actually land up designing forward with clearer sign posts for the notes we want to hit and the impact we want to create (did you follow all that back and forth?).
Us humans are propelled by a desire for authentic connection, which, when achieved, can be a fuel for the soul, body and mind. Gatherings are a collection of moments for such connection and our task is to create and leverage them. You can build connection by going deep. Questions and prompts, such as “When do you feel most at home?” or “What do you need to be free from?” or “I want to remember what it’s like to…” all invite beyond-the-surface reflection and conversation. The deeper we go, the closer we grow.
Engage the whole
Finding ways to engage the whole being of a person can optimise their participation and positively influence their experience. Good gatherings engage a person’s mind, but great gatherings engage their heart, soul and body too. Creative arts, music, movement, drama, poetry and the outdoors are just some of the many ways to engage with your participants beyond their intellect. When the whole being is switched on, people are more open to learning and growing.
To enrich the quality and calibre of your gathering, commit yourself to the value and principle of diversity. Pay close attention to who stands on the stage, to which voices are heard in a discussion, to which narratives are expressed and to what rituals are upheld. Diversity intersects with gender, sexuality, religious affiliation, socio-economic status, disability, race, mental health and so much more! If you want to broaden peoples’ horizons and create environments that are inclusive and equitable, design moments that can hold – and showcase – a diversity of opinions, lived experiences and perspectives.
Embracing a participatory stance means that you are committed to finding ways that invite participation, inclusion and belonging. Sitting in a circle is different to facing a podium. Inviting someone to complete a task is different to telling someone what to do. Asking for peoples’ attention is different to demanding it. Being participatory shows up in our language, in the way we engage with others, and by recognising the wisdom in each person. When we are participatory, we acknowledge and welcome the value that our guests have to offer the experience too, and we find ways to integrate their contributions into the gathering.
Connect the dots
Meaningful moments are consolidated by taking time to pause and reflect. Creating space for participants to make meaning of their experience is a critical element of best-practice facilitation as it helps people to connect the dots between all that they are thinking, feeling and sensing. Building in a 5 to 10 minute debrief at the end of an activity, inviting people to have a short conversation with the person next to them, or providing a reflective, take-home question can really help people to make sense of what they are experiencing. Some helpful debrief/meaning making questions are “What is resonating with you and why?” or “What feelings are present for you?” or “What will you do with this new insight?” or “Who are you becoming in this moment?”
Perhaps a moment doesn’t actually last forever, but the echoes of a well-designed, intentionally-structured and honourably-delivered gathering can be heard (and felt) for a long time. Such moments can inspire another and then another; so that when combined, a tapestry of colourful moments is created to carry us forward in our lives and in our leadership.
May we all know, design, deliver and experience many more such moments!
Brandon Srot is a psychotherapist, facilitator and leadership development practitioner committed to developing human potential and connection. He holds a Bachelor of Counselling and Human Change and a postgraduate qualification in Gestalt Therapy. He has also trained in embodied leadership, adaptive leadership and facilitation in the USA, Israel and Australia. He is the Chief Facilitation Officer of LaunchPad Australia, is a certified practitioner of The Leadership Circle® and is a Senior Fellow of the prestigious Schusterman Fellowship.