Positive Postmortems

This past week, I attended one event and heard about another that were both very well put together. Let’s learn from what these organizers and facilitators did really well.

The first was a meeting at a post-secondary institution. One of the participants posted on social media that it was refreshing to attend. I asked her to share what made the session so good. Her prompt, verbatim reply is printed here, with her permission:

  1. The person leading the meeting spoke for only a very short time. They were personable, warm.
  2. We were invited to send our questions beforehand, in the moment confidentially by email, or ask by speaking, popping it in the chat… lots of options to engage.
  3. Tough questions were taken seriously.
  4. Speakers were open to sharing that they didn’t know all the answers.
  5. Many speakers were invited, all given the time and the presentation format that they wanted.
  6. Actions were presented, not just commitments.
  7. There was a commitment to meet again and follow up.
  8. Congratulations were shared, not appropriated.
  9. The meeting was short and well facilitated.

Then, the evening before typing this post, I attended an event hosted by House of Friendship (HoF) in Kitchener, Ontario. It was called a Friendship Dinner — it’s a longstanding occasion that had been postponed by COVID for a couple of years. It was my first time being there. Here’s what I loved about it:

  1. There were over 500 people eating together. I was impressed at HoF’s ability to attract such a large crowd, but also a truly multigenerational one. To me, it felt like an old-fashioned church supper, in the best way.
  2. There was a warm buzz in the room. People seemed genuinely delighted to see one another in person. I was reminded how important that is. There were a lot of hugs.
  3. Many of those in attendance could be considered HoF’s “competitors,” yet they chose to attend this occasion hosted by one of their peers. I was struck by the variety of people who made it a priority, on a Saturday night, to attend. To me, it spoke to HoF’s level of respect in the community.
  4. The emphasis of the program made people’s decision seem less odd. HoF chose to use the opportunity of a large audience to elevate the work of their partners ahead of their own — in detail, complete with photos, applause and honourable attribution. They framed the challenge of addressing supportive housing as a community problem requiring a community-wide solution. This may not sound remarkable, but when I thought I was attending a fundraising event for a specific organization, the decision to showcase other agencies was notable and generous. It exemplified leadership that was both humble and confident.
  5. I am fan of being inspired by the company you keep. In this case, individuals and organizations doing a great job in their programs and in their philanthropy were highlighted, and HoF framed its own work as “stepping up and doing their part” alongside others in their community.
  6. The program held together beautifully. The speakers were believable, engaging and well-prepared. Their messages complemented each other well without redundancy. And it didn’t run long!
  7. The tone of the content was deliberately and explicitly hopeful, without doing what Kate Bowler would call “brightsiding” difficult issues with inauthentic positivity.
  8. The evening nodded to HoF’s long history but stayed future-focused.
  9. They cast a big vision and invited people to become part of making it happen, for the benefit of the whole community. The message was both specific and inclusive.

I can imagine internal conversations about whether hosting a community dinner still made sense in our modern and volatile current environment. It did.

Whether you are hosting a meeting for five or a soiree for five hundred, I trust some of these tips will help your gathering to land well enough for people like my colleague and me to offer unsolicited praise afterwards!

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