“I’m going to tell you a story. But first, I want to tell you about a couch”.
This is the first line from comedian Mike Birbiglia’s most recent show, “The New One”.
While the audience is expecting to hear a personal story about parenthood, Birbiglia starts where the most adept facilitators do: he makes the personal, universal.
While not everyone is a parent, everyone has a couch. This choice allows his gathering to start in a neutral, non-polarizing place and immediately gets everyone on the same page. Once he has that implicit first agreement and head nod, he can and does lead us elsewhere.
Entertainers, educators, and leaders share a unique gift and opportunity to bring people together by transforming something personal into the universal.
What’s mine can also be yours.
Though you’ve probably gathered to hear them, they don’t start with their experience. They begin with ours.
This small choice to zoom out first exemplifies the key to creating a personalized gathering: The audience feels seen and can see themselves in the material.
This choice is especially important at the start of a gathering – whether it’s a class, a workshop, an offsite, etc. This is when we are often starting with zero; a blank screen, a quiet room, or a gathering people don’t actually want to be at, or one where we don’t have buy in, or one where we are dealing with a challenging or controversial topic.
The easiest way in to the hardest starts is to find connection first.
When we make the choice to see who we have gathered it can look, feel, and sound like this:
- Heavy use of the word ‘you’ or ‘we’ as we if are literally reaching into the audience to connect our experience with theirs. The material becomes generalizable to who is in the room so that it’s not ‘my’ problem, it’s ours, and we can all feel it together. This is what musicians do when they explain a song before they sing it… “this is a song about…”
- When an audience reacts, the gatherer does too. They are right there with you. When an audience gasped at a particular part of the story, Birbiglia exclaimed, “I know!” in agreement. In many cases, an audience wants to be seen as much as the gatherer does. That is often why people shout things out at comedy show. They want to connect their experience with yours.
When we make the choice to gather we aren’t just coming to hear someone speak. We want to find a connection between what they have to say, and our experience.
The best gatherers know that the story they are telling, the material they are sharing, or the change initiative they are leading is not about them. They are constantly crafting their work to figure out, how is this about the audience, and how does this make us feel closer to each other.
What’s mine can be ours.