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Do You Know Your ABCs? Designing Gatherings with Intention

Updated: Jul 13, 2022

I recently hosted a Zoom/Facebook Live on “Designing Gatherings with Intention” and I shared the ABCs that I use almost every day. If you would like to check out the video replay (about 20 minutes), you can do that here, but I’ve also distilled the most salient points into a blog post if you prefer to get your information that way.

Whether you are planning an in-retreat, virtual board meeting, social gathering, or perhaps a tricky conversation, starting with the ABCs will allow you to be clear, crisp, and concise in your messaging to yield the greatest impact. I learned this tool in the Georgetown University Certificate in Facilitation program with Rae Ringel and Maya Bernstein so I wanted to give a shout-out to them and Cohort 1.

Quick overview (TL:DR):

o A = affect

o B = behavior

o C = cognitive

“A” stands for affect. What do you want people to feel at the event or as a result of the experience? What are the emotions, mood, and/or energy you want to cultivate? I believe this is the most overlooked and underappreciated component of designing gatherings and, if there’s nothing else you take away from this blog, the “A” is truly the gamechanger. Think about the difference between a campfire and a pep rally: one is conducive to people feeling mellow and connected while the other is meant for people to feel energized and excited. There are no bad “A”s, but writing down what your intended “A”s are for your particular event allows you to be deliberate and precise in how you craft the agenda, set the tone, prepare the invitation, etc. Staying rooted in your “As” will allow the messaging to be consistent, coherent, and intentional.

“B” stands for behavior. What behaviors or actions do you want people to take at the event or as a result of the experience? Folks tend to make this the primary focus of gatherings and make it all about action steps, but it often can feel overwhelming. Writing down your “B”s ahead of time requires you to be really explicit and crisp about what the top priorities are so that 1) you are not making assumptions that everyone knows what you are talking about, and 2) you don’t have too many. My recommendation is to limit your “B”s to one or two items max and then put your energy into building in supports and accountability measures to set folks up for success. What resources, training, materials, time, etc. do they need to follow through on the actions that have been outlined? Don’t forget about your “A” here and consider your tone, style, and approach when articulating what the next steps are. You might also want to check out this blog on “Making Effective Requests” for more guidance.

“C” is the cognitive piece. What information do you want people to leave the experience knowing? What do you want folks to most understand? This is another area we tend to default to and participants end up feeling like they are drinking water from a firehose trying to keep up with all of the details. Writing down your “C”s ahead of time will enable you to distill it down to the two or three most important items; everything else can go into an email or a subsequent conversation. This approach also allows you to be sure that everyone is getting the same message at the same time with little room for ambiguity or interpretation about what should be considered a priority. Again, don’t forget about your “A”s here and recognize that your tone, style, and approach will impact how well people can integrate what you are saying into their own learning. Creating immersive experiences where they can see and feel the importance instead of just knowing it intellectually will allow participants to absorb and understand it on a deeper level.

Whenever I facilitate a workshop, a retreat, a conference, or a meeting, I am transparent about the ABCs from the start and share them with participants when I talk through the agenda and the objectives. If it is possible to send them out in advance, that’s even better, so that folks understand what is expected of them and how to best prepare. For example, is this a share-out of program updates or a brainstorming session for next quarter, or a professional development workshop? I have found that people genuinely appreciate the time and intentionality that you have put into crafting an experience that is deliberate, focused, and thoughtful. It makes people feel taken care of and that their time is valued.

As a final note, sometimes it makes sense for meetings, trainings, and events to be done by internal staff, and sometimes it is more effective to bring in an outside facilitator to support the work. Outsourcing to an experienced facilitator to design programming incorporating the ABCs that you have identified can really elevate the experience for everyone involved and take a huge weight off of the organizers. Let me know if you would like to set up a time to discuss options for your organization or group.

If you (or someone you know) could benefit from working with a certified coach and trained facilitator who will provide customized, holistic, and tireless support as you or your team identify and take action towards your goals, please reach out to One Eleven Leadership to set up a complimentary consultation.

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