Peer-to-Peer Conversations at Meetings: Powerful, Inspiring and Productive

October 2, 2018 Kevin Edmunds


While most meetings have an agenda that includes a lot of learning that comes from above–either from management or from outside topic experts–some of the most powerful learning and bonding experiences happen when colleagues are given time to sit among themselves and talk about topics of their own choosing.

I recently read an article about peer conversations and their benefits. In particular, two points the author made struck me as beneficial for meeting planners to think about when coordinating their organization’s business events.

The first point has to do with the format these peer conversations should use. Here’s what the article’s author, James Millar, writes:

“There is a reason our ancestors used to gather around a campfire to tell stories: Storytelling is a wonderful way to share experiences and insights with each other. After all, adults don’t learn the same way children do. We don’t easily absorb narrow, abstract information delivered by authority figures. Rather, as adults, we learn through analogy, experience and context. We can appreciate the nuance inherent in another’s story and use it to refine our own understanding. This is ultimately what turns a good story into a great conversation.”

In light of this, meeting and incentive planners would be wise to create opportunities at each meeting where colleagues who don’t work together much can discuss certain aspects and challenges of their jobs, and tell their own stories. Doing so not only educates colleagues, but it also gets them to share their own examples and insights. This creates a bonding experience when people realize that they have encountered the same types of situations–and thoughts and emotions connected to those situations.

The second point Millar makes is that one meeting is not enough to gain the full impact of peer conversations–there needs to be some continuity going forward. Here’s what he writes:

“Trust in any group is built over time. We’ve all seen that in our own lives. Conversations with family and old friends are usually more open, more candid, and more informal than those with new acquaintances. We can’t expect others to share their deepest hopes and fears during a first encounter. So, it’s important for peer networks to meet not just once, but regularly. Over time, the quality and nature of conversations becomes deeper, more honest, less guarded. Invariably, a group will develop rituals and a kind of verbal shorthand. It will build on earlier conversations to explore old questions in new ways. And eventually, group members will develop a sense of belonging. ”

To make this happen, planners should push their organizations to use collaborative technology to keep groups talking after a good initial experience at an in-person meeting. Just consider how much more productive next year’s in-person meeting or incentive event will be if peer groups stay in contact all year long via technology!

For AIC Hotel Group, we want to provide the setting where business groups start off on the right foot towards becoming trusted colleagues and even friends. We have a lot of experience in helping business groups achieve such objectives. So if you’d like to strategize with our conference services people at one of our all-inclusive meeting and incentive properties in Mexico and the Caribbean, please contact me and I can make that happen.

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