Take Control of the Hole

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A tips sheet for talkaoke hosts.


The theme is that there is no theme

One of the key elements to Talkaoke is that there is "no agenda" This means that it is difficult for participants to develop entrenched positions. Participants more easily make new and different connections.

It's essential to be tangential

what's the most interesting assumption in the statement a person has just made?

Smaller the question, bigger the answer

Remember the child's game where he asks "why" to every answer. Try to think of questions (not just "why") that will open up the discussion rather than close it down. try to avoid questions where you have assumed what the answer will be.

Create an atmosphere

If you are sitting in the middle of the table, people will look to you for cues as to how to behave/ perform / react in the unfamiliar situation of a talk show. If you are uncomfortable so will they be. If you are calm and relaxed and enjoying yourself, well?

Keep going, keep talking, stay relaxed

Sometimes, something will go wrong. The Table may run out of batteries, everyone might get up and leave the table at once, it might start raining. Just keep going. It may seem pointless, but even if you're just there chatting to one person for an hour, keep going. Eventually, it will pick up again - as long as there is at least one punter around -you just need to keep trying. If you're comfortable with the thought of sitting in the table talking to one person, then every extra punter is a bonus.

Don't worry if it doesn't work

It might sound confusing. Different techniques work better in different circumstances. After a few goes you'll get the hang of it. Talkaoke is the sum of you, your team and the audience. If you give it all your energy and it doesn't work out - don't worry. You did your best.

You are not the expert!

in fact the opposite.

Don't worry about getting it wrong

Although knowledge of any given subject is useful for hosting talkaoke, it is not essential. In a community of experts, everybody should be able to explain what they are talking about. If they can't it's a very good challenge for them to try and they will certainly learn. In a mixed field it's more important.

If you do know about a field, it doesn't mean you need to demonstrate that knowledge; better to let those around the table achieve a consensus on what is factually correct or right. You can still question inaccuracies. Only as a last resort is it necessary to come in with your own opinions or facts. This may happen if you are questioned directly and nobody else around the table knows the answer. Or you might be asked about the process of talkaoke itself.

Remembering people's names

See above. I'm not sure how I remember people's names. I often get it wrong. It doesn't matter.

I kind of spin round and remember the names geographically according to where people are sitting.

It's good anyway to "do a round of names" just to keep everybody involved.

Look around

Talkaoke has a 360 degree architecture. Make sure you keep looking around to see how people are reacting to what the person on the mic is saying. Do they look bored, interested, annoyed, excited? Your job is to maximise engagement. By all means look at the person speaking, but look around too. I know that's a lot of looking but it is more important to keep everybody engaged. Looking at participants on the table will keep them hooked, and reassure them that you are not ignoring them. Looking at participants around the table will encourage them to sit down and/or take part.

Look for points and people that interest other people

One of the important reasons to keep looking around is that it tells you who is interested. Look at people when they're listening to other people. It's amazing how honest their expressions are! Bored people look really really bored, even if they're too polite to say so. Take advantage of this. If someone is talking and everyone looks bored, get the mic moving again.

Sum it up

The "sum up" is a very important skill in Talkaoke. It is used for 3 things.

Quite often people will make a point and then make the same point in a slightly different way and the make the same point in a slightly different way. you get the picture? What they are actually looking for is a response and that's where you can help. If you sum up their point in as few words as possible and give it some gravitas that will make them feel better. Every now and again you can ask for a round of applause if you need even more response.

Sometimes there are many themes going around the table. If you some up the key points on the table it will add coherence to the conversation.

If you turn the "sum up" into a question it is a good way to invite people to the table, because it saves words, performing at least three functions at once.

eg. Andy is saying how she thinks smoking should be banned in public spaces. You have noticed someone standing around the table who is interested in the conversation. Perhaps you have already briefly made eye contact with him a number of times. Ask him "are you a smoker?" or "should smoking be banned in public?"

Invite people in

In public gig this is the crux of the matter. People may be reticent to engage because of lack of confidence, shyness, unfamiliarity with talkaoke. Maybe they just want to listen to the conversation. Here are some tips.

The more people there are sitting around the table the easier it is to get more to come. Conversely the first person is the hardest to come sit down. If you are new to Talkaoke you might want to arrange it so that a couple of "stooges"- people who will support the project- are there from the off. Don't be too familiar with these first people. you don't want to give the impression it is a closed shop.

You need to time your invitation well. Do it too soon and you may scare them away. Make eye contact and acknowledge their presence a few times if possible before engaging them.

Refer back to the art of the sum up. If you have some discussion on the table, hit potential participants with a question they have to answer. It will be more effective to say "do we live in a nanny state?" than "would you like to come and sit down on this table of chat and talk about smoking law?"

You might get some interaction while they are still standing up but your goal is to get them sitting down, as body language of the participants is all important to other potential participants.

Give them a big round of applause

Use positive peer pressure to encourage a reluctant person to sit down. If there is any doubt, the expectant applause of other participants will usually work.

Ask three times

Have you noticed that people will politely decline something they want to do but are feeling shy until you ask three times? So ask once. Carry on the conversation a while. Ask the question in a different way if they are still hanging around. Rinse and repeat.

Don't get too desperate

If you are not successful in getting a potential participant to sit down/interact, carry on the conversation for a while before trying again. If other people see the rejection, they are much more likely to follow suit.

Can't hear the hecklers 'til they sit down

As noted earlier, body language is important. If people heckle from the sidelines - that's great. At first, it injects energy into the debate. If it goes on for too long, it can become a distracting dialogue between host and heckler. Engage at first, then pretend you can't hear them until they sit down.

Cultivate conflict

Do this in a fun way, eg.: 'I bet people around the table have views other people don't agree with'. Sometimes people that don't know each other will keep to subjects they think everyone agrees with. Give them permission to bring up their 'controversial' views. If you can help them feel that Talkaoke is a safe place to do that, you'll be amazed at the energy that it can release. But be ready to hear things you might disagree with too!

Get personal

Sometimes people react to Talkaoke by speaking in generalisations, or trying to speak 'factually', rather than from their own perspective. You can break this down by sharing a personal story or opinion of your own. It's not the host's job to do this, but it can be a good tactic for personalising the chat.

People are more likely to react to other people's stories if they're told in the first person. Encourage people to talk about their own experience BUT generalise potentially difficult questions aimed inappropriately across the table at an individual. If the person wants to answer them they will, but you must give them the means of escape.

Encourage the quieter people

Believe it or not, some people are a little nervous or shy to talk. It is important not to intimidate these people, but if they have sat down at the table, that's a first step. Maybe ask them their name in a "round of names" Don't pressure them at first. Let them get comfortable, but if they go an extended time (15-30 minutes) without talking, then it's time to bring them in. You might go around the table asking each person a simple question they can easily answer. A recent one from last week was "what would you loot from a shop?" Or you could ask for a show of hands over a contentious topic and ask them why they raised/ didn't raise their hand.

Quite often the quieter people have more considered things to say.

Ask a stupid question

Sometimes people speaking assume that everyone knows what they're on about - especially in contexts with groups of shared expertise or interest. This can exclude people from the table, so someone needs to ask the stupid questions. As the host - that's one of your jobs. Funny acronyms? Ask what they mean. Long complicated words? Ask what they mean. Sometimes, people are interesting but just hard to understand. Take a leaf out of newscaster Amy Goodman's book - whenever she thinks a guest isn't being clear about something, she just asks 'what do you mean?' politely but repeatedly, until they explain it clearly. It's a good question!

If you're having fun then you're probably doing the right thing

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