In a room full of wise women gathered for the United Methodist Women’s Assembly, I invited those attending my workshops to dive into the same biblical texts that I focus on in my forthcoming book Women Rise Up. I divided them into small groups, assigned each one a story, and asked them to explore together two simple, though not necessarily easy questions about the passage:
- What about this story troubles you?
- What about it inspires you?
As I passed the mic from table to table, I was moved by the thoughtful reflections they shared, and I was heartened to hear that some of their understandings aligned with my own. But then one woman shared an insight that was so profound that it sent a shiver down my spine.
In all the time I had spent studying and reflecting on this story I had never read the passage that way.
Her wisdom-sharing transformed and deepened the conversation in the room. And it reinforced for me the importance of cultivating space for the wisdom held in the room to emerge.
For those who’ve attended conferences or participated in workshops, you know that the dynamic of these gatherings can be quite lopsided. Presenters may be inclined to spend the majority of their time lecturing to the audience. I understand the temptation! But I also value the wisdom held in the room. How do we create space for both?
I strive to incorporate practices that facilitate the kind of mutual wisdom-sharing that enriches the experience for both participants and for myself as well.
Here are a few strategies you may consider trying the next time you are planning a workshop:
- Set the tone for wisdom-sharing as people arrive. Use this transition time, which is often underutilized, to spark creativity. Consider playing music or a slideshow with artwork that might generate reflection and ideas.
- Prepare to be a wisdom guide, not just a wisdom giver. Yes, participants will want to learn from you, but they will greatly benefit from learning from others in the room. Put as much time and thought into formulating small group activities and/or questions you will ask the group as you do drafting your own thoughts that you will share.
- If you include an activity, give clear, concise instructions. Your time will be limited, so be sure that you’re making the activity easy to follow. If possible, ask someone ahead of time to review your instructions for clarity. In the workshop display the instructions on a screen, print them off on paper, and speak them aloud. Twice.
- Create ample and varied opportunities for sharing wisdom. For example, if you have folks work in small groups, don’t limit them to a single method of reporting back. Invite them to write, draw, speak–even sing or act out–their reflections.
If you have other practices that you’ve used that cultivate wisdom-sharing, I’d love to hear from you. We’re wiser together than we are alone!