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:
- The person leading the meeting spoke for only a very short time. They were personable, warm.
- 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.
- Tough questions were taken seriously.
- Speakers were open to sharing that they didn’t know all the answers.
- Many speakers were invited, all given the time and the presentation format that they wanted.
- Actions were presented, not just commitments.
- There was a commitment to meet again and follow up.
- Congratulations were shared, not appropriated.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- The tone of the content was deliberately and explicitly hopeful, without doing what Kate Bowler would call “brightsiding” difficult issues with inauthentic positivity.
- The evening nodded to HoF’s long history but stayed future-focused.
- 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!