Microphone or talking stick

Look blogs are a great place for half-finished ideas. It’s probably one reason why I like to blog but find it an increasing ordeal to write essays, proposals etc.

In this spirit, I was thinking about talking sticks. I’ve been to events where we all sat in a cirle, and when someone wanted to speak, they would take hold of the talking stick. It’s the sort of thing you often see hilariously mocked on TV. The actual experience was very satisfying. I especially appreciated the principle that a facilitator articulated: if you’re talking, feel free to express what you want, and be mindful that others will also wish to speak. That somehow got across the idea that you shouldn’t prattle on but in a much more permissive way. The second principle was that if you weren’t talking, your focus should be on listening, and not sitting there planning your pithy follow up. Sometimes it works really well when the suggestion is made that we don’t respond directly to what the previous person has said, which gets away from a dynamic of a small number of people having a conversation being watched by others.

Anyway, what seemed to work about the talking stick ritual was that people managed to bring some reverence to the process of sharing experience together.

So I was thinking, wouldn’t it be nice to think of microphones at large conferences more this way?

2 thoughts on “Microphone or talking stick

  1. Jeff Risley

    Great, great idea. The whole un-conference thing is a direction we’d all like to go in, I’m sure. But it’s kind of like trying to get people to stop using power point slides full of bullets…people are so used to doing it one way, they are resistant to change because they are comfortable with it. For example, there were two key-note sessions at the New Communications Forum this past week that were un-conference-like. Shel Israel and Robert Scoble lead one of them. It kind of worked. I mean, I appreciated them involving the crowd, but it felt a little awkward. Perhaps that’s because I need to get used to this new method. Reading your post(s) on this subject, I realized two things: 1) The talking stick idea would really work; Shel and Robert’s session was dominated by a few talkers, and sometimes what they said was good, and sometimes not. Perhaps giving the mic to one person at each table (there were about 150 people there) would work. 2) It takes good facilitation to make the un-conference work. People have to know how to bring the information out of people. Most people are not versed in this skill. So my caution to un-conference organizers would be to focus on those two things for their next conference.

  2. Chris Corrigan

    The conference microphone, in my experience IS in fact a talking stick.

    In the traditional cultures around here (the west coast of North America) talking sticks are wielded by speakers in the longhouse. It’s more that simply a way of allowing everyone to speak. In fact the traditional talking sticks, adorned with the crests of the chief’s or community’s families, confers both the authority to speak and the responsibility to do so in a manner that is respectful of that power.

    In conference settings I always give that reminder, in a similarly permissive way, usually something along the lines of inviting people to “be respectful speakers when speaking and be respectful listeners when listening.”

    As for speaking from the outside of oneself, there is a deeper practice of sensing from the middle, a practice that comes to us out of Bohmian dialogue. That is where we actually try to sense into what is beyond our own persections and try to get a handle on the questions that are really top of mind for the whole. I invite that too, as this is where the emergent insights come from. If you can get outside your own box and tap the collective, you stand a good chance of assembling a picture of the emergent. Speaking your own mind does nothing to foster that, it just entrenches starting positions.

    My friend Ashley Cooper was hosting a recent conversation on those practices here:



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