#MonthlyMyth: Tables enhance conversation

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We are often drawn towards what we know – it’s comfortable sticking to what we are used to doing, seeing and experiencing.  However, when it comes to engagement, sometimes comfortable doesn’t equal effective, and this month’s myth is a perfect example.

MYTH:

Tables are necessary for every engagement event or workshop and always enhance conversation.

IN REALITY:

Unfortunately, rather than enhancing and encouraging conversation, using tables in group workshops often hinders it, providing a physical and mental barrier to working together.   In a large group, they can sometimes also create an audible barrier – separating group members so that its challenging to hear other people speak.   Plus, tables tend to take up lots of extra space – and sometimes space is at a premium.

For a facilitator, these types of events are all about quality conversation leading to quality outputs, and anything that hampers our efforts to support this needs to be rethought.   We want participants to relax, connect and converse, not to feel distant, formal or disconnected.

Deliberation Yarra Valley Water Citizens Jury Facilitators

An example of small group discussions using clipboards instead of tables - MosaicLab co-founder Keith Greaves supporting juror discussions as part of the Yarra Valley Water Citizens Jury process. 


Of course, there’s times when tables are useful – particularly when you have templates to write on or groups are using laptops.  In these cases, we either give groups clipboards or we bring in smaller café-style tables to ensure the groups can hear each other and work together more effectively.

So, next time you’re planning an engagement event, think about the alternatives to tables, and don’t be too afraid to go against the status quo – you and your participants might just get more out of the entire experience!

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