What Makes a Good Host Anyway? Part 2

In Part 1 of What Makes a Good Host Anyway?, Carolyn and I laid out the broad strokes of event planning … but I’m never going to throw a gala (… god, I hope I’m never going to throw a gala) so how can I scale this down to the kind of event I find most challenging: A well-facilitated collaborative conversation?

Annie Swank of Drink Tank does this professionally, working at “the overlap between design thinking and dinner parties”.

I wailed to Annie about how my professional facilitations always seem to go awry, and she talked through it with me, asking “in what ways are you unconsciously raising the bar?”

I thought back to my latest facilitation, a brainstorm in a design agency. Everyone in the room was a professional creative – which sets the expectation for creativity pretty high. And there were a lot of supervisors/employees in the room. Ooops! I can only imagine how hard it is to throw something crazy on a post-it if you’re worried about looking dumb in front of your boss!

Annie explained a few ways I could have lowered the bar…

Business as unusual – holding an event off site makes it easier to change the energy in the room, it feels fun, not like another painful meeting) – start the evening with fun ice-breaking activities and “cheers” every idea.

Invite people from outside the community – experts in what you’re brainstorming around (one company interested in security issues invited a hacker!)

Make them feel welcome and wanted – “A good host makes somebody feel welcome and communicates why you think that person needs to be there … everyone wants to make an impact, they just don’t always know how.”

One of my biggest concerns was how to manage guiding attendees through my content, while still managing the tenor of the room.

Like Carolyn, Annie stressed the importance of prep. “Work before hand to create materials so the activities are almost automatic – plan out the content and timing so that it’s clear and empowering… it definitely takes practice.”

Finally, I asked Annie what role she thought that food played in setting the stage for Drink Tank’s collaborations.

“Offering food or drink at an event signals to guests (either consciously or not) that their hosts care about them, that their needs will be met. We want our guests to feel safe to dream big, ask thorny questions when they’re working together in teams – all of that is made easier when there’s a sense of trust in the room. Being a good host, for us, means working backwards from that sense of trust.”

Thanks for chatting Annie!

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