Facilitation Friday #45: Help Participants Become Power Prospectors

If there's "gold in them there hills," there's wisdom, ideas, and insights in a conference community. The challenge is helping participants more quickly connect with others who have the gold they seek.  To do so, I've been experimenting with helping participants become Power Prospectors in a session.

Imagine a room filled with participants (this exercise scales to any size) seated at rounds.  It would not be unusual for individuals at the same table to introduce themselves informally and begin some networking.  As the presenter or facilitator you might even start your program with a more structured activity to help them better connect with others at their table.  That's great except people are only learning about 6-8 others as possible resources.  Power Prospecting doubles, triples, or even
quadruples that number in a relatively short period of time.  Plus it so in a way that energizes the community while honoring the preferences of both introverted and extroverted learners.

The premise of Power Prospecting is simple: instead of individuals only looking to get their learning needs met, turn them into prospectors seeking individuals who have knowledge that matches the needs of anyone in the small group at their table.  The odds of finding someone who has the ideas or insights I seek is exponentially increased if I now have 6-8 other individuals also searching on my behalf.  Plus the mixing and mingling that occurs serves as a very low risk icebreaker of sorts that gets people rapidly up and talking to a large number of people on their own terms.

Here are some additional tips to consider if you envision yourself experimenting with the Power Prospecting approach:
  • I have used it at various times during a program, but it is a natural opening exercise.
  • It becomes a great mid-point or closing exercise for distilling the learning if you tweak the basic premise: instead of people at their tables sharing a learning need, they share a takeaway from the program so far.  The mixing and mingling then focuses on individuals giving away the takeaways, prospecting for individuals who would most value the insights they can share from their table.
  • Tables aren't required for the exercise though they make it easier.  If people are seated theatre-style simply have them form small groups with 5-6 other individuals near them.
  • Time permitting, you might add one additional step after people return from mixing and mingling and sharing at their tables. It's possible some individuals still will not have the names of a contact person who can meet their need, so let them stand, state their need, and anyone who can help them out then raises their hand or stands.
Letting people network as they see fit is nice, but insufficient in our time-starved, info-overloaded world.  Savvy conference designers and workshop presenters see themselves as catalysts for helping individuals find the knowledge they need as quickly as possible: that's the value-add that will soon become the baseline expectation. Power Prospecting is just one approach I have found valuable.

What other ways do you use (or have you seen effectively used) to help people connect with individuals having the answers or insights they seek?

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