Part of the Take Control of the Hole series to help you become a Talkaoke Host
Doing Talkaoke in a public space, public engagement is the crucial factor. People may be reticent to engage because of lack of confidence, shyness, unfamiliarity with Talkaoke. Maybe they just want to listen to the conversation, which is fine, but ideally you want maximum participation. Here are some tips.
The more people there are sitting around the table, the easier it is to get more to come. Conversely the first person is the hardest to persuade to sit down. If you don’t have that much experience hosting Talkaoke, it’s advisable to arrange a couple of “stooges”- people who will support the project- are there from the beginning. Don’t be too familiar with these first people. You don’t want to give the impression of any kind of clique.
Time your invitation well. Do it too soon and you may scare a potential participant away. Make eye contact and acknowledge their presence a few times visually if possible before engaging them verbally.
Refer back to the art of the sum up. If you have some discussion on the table, hit potential participants with a question. Make it one they are compelled to answer. It will be more effective to say “does the government want to control you?” than “would you like to come and sit down on this table of chat and talk about smoking law?”
You might get some interaction while they are still standing up but your goal is to get them sitting down, as body language of the participants is all important to other potential participants. Sitting down at the table displays a level of commitment to others.
As noted earlier, body language is important. If people heckle from the sidelines – that’s great. At first, it injects energy into the debate. If it goes on for too long, it can become a distracting dialogue between host and heckler. Engage at first, then explain you will hear them better them when they sit down.
Use positive peer pressure to encourage a reluctant person to sit down. If there is any doubt, the expectant applause of other participants will usually work. Obviously this doesn’t work too well if it is just you and your “stooge” around the table.
Have you noticed that people will politely decline something they want to do but are feeling shy about it, until you ask for a third time? So ask once. Carry on the conversation a while. Ask the question in a different way if they are still hanging around. Rinse and repeat.
If you are not successful in getting a potential participant to sit down/interact, carry on the conversation for a while before asking anyone else. If other people see the rejection, they are much more likely to follow suit.
Do this in a fun way- eg.: ‘I bet people around the table have views other people don’t agree with’. Sometimes people that don’t know each other will propose topics which they think everyone agrees on. Give them permission to bring up their ‘controversial’ views. If you can help them feel that Talkaoke is a safe place to do that, you’ll be amazed at the energy that it can release. But be ready to hear things you might disagree with too!
Making it safe can sometimes means supporting and rationalising controversial views, making the proposer of the views more comfortable. See the generalising rule below.
Sometimes people react to Talkaoke by speaking in generalisations, or trying to speak ‘factually’, rather than from their own perspective. You can break this down by sharing a personal story or opinion of your own. It’s not the host’s job to give their own personal opinion, except at the start when they want to warm things up, but it can be a good tactic for personalising the chat.
People are more likely to react to other people’s stories if they’re told in the first person. Encourage people to talk about their own experience BUT generalise potentially difficult questions aimed inappropriately across the table at an individual. If the person wants to answer them they will, but you must give them the means of escape.
Believe it or not, some people are a little nervous or shy to talk. It is important not to intimidate these people, but if they have sat down at the table, that’s a first step. Maybe ask them their name in a “round of names” Don’t pressure them at first. Let them get comfortable, but if they go an extended time (15-20 minutes) without talking, then it’s time to bring them in. You might go around the table asking each person a simple question they can easily answer. A recent one from last week was “have you ever won anything?” Or you could ask for a show of hands over a contentious topic and ask them why they raised/ didn’t raise their hand.
The quieter people often have more considered things to say.
Sometimes people speaking assume that everyone knows what they’re on about – especially in contexts with groups of shared expertise or interest. This can exclude people from the table, so someone needs to ask the stupid questions. As the host – that’s one of your jobs. Funny acronyms? Ask what they mean. Long complicated words? Ask what they mean. Sometimes, people are interesting but just hard to understand. Take a leaf out of newscaster Amy Goodman’s book – whenever she thinks a guest isn’t being clear about something, she just asks ‘what do you mean?’ politely but repeatedly, until they explain it clearly. It’s a good question!