The role of the Knowledge Café host is an important one. Their job is to facilitate lightly the conversational process that is the core of the Café. The success or failure of a Café is in their hands.
The first point to make is that a Café host does not need to be a professional facilitator. And although a Knowledge Café host is often called a facilitator – this person hosts the conversations and does not facilitate them in a traditional sense.
Hospitality refers to the relationship between a guest and a host, wherein the host receives the guest with goodwill, including the reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers
The Skills of the Host
This distinction between facilitator and host is in recognition that the role of a Café host is somewhat different and a little simpler to that of a professional facilitator. Their role is closer to that of a host at a dinner party than a someone facilitating a workshop.
It’s not their job to steer the conversation in a particular direction or to try to help people reach a consensus or to summarize in any way.
This does not mean it requires little skill. It requires skills that reflect the personality of the host and is not something that someone can easily teach them through training.
- The Café host should behave the way he or she wants the participants to be. To demonstrate the desired behavior and not try to teach it directly.
- The Café host should be ego-less and have no bias – to the extent that that is ever actually possible.
- They should be seen to be neutral. So if the Café is being run inside of an organization on a sensitive topic, then the host needs to be selected carefully.
- They should be genuinely warm and friendly and speak the language of the participants.
- They should have a high tolerance for silence and to give people space and time to think and reflect.
- They should observe and quieten the more dominating personalities and bring in the quieter ones into the conversation in a sensitive way.
I learned not to worry about delivering something new like the Café.
The more relaxed I could make the event, the more likely people are to talk to each other.
I noticed this in David’s videos, so I tried to put it into practice on the day – even though I was quite nervous. And it worked.
I got people engaging with the presentation first, and then they were happy to carry on their discussion in the Knowledge Café session.
Credit: Debra Thornton, Knowledge and Library Services Manager, Blackpool Victoria Hospital, UK
Hosting a Knowledge Café
The section below outlines the role of the Café host in hosting a Knowledge Café.
People should be greeted at the door and welcomed personally. If the Café has not started and people are networking, they should be introduced to others or helped to find a seat. …
Late arrivals should be welcomed without any humiliation. …
Sometimes people quietly leave during the small group conversations. That is just fine. …
More often than not, they leave during the whole group conversation. As they get up to leave, the host should briefly pause the conversation and thank them for their participation. …
Small group conversations
The Café host needs to decide to what degree to take part in the small group discussions.
There are broadly three options:
- Not to take part at all but only observe. The host may choose to do this with large groups whom they do not know and where they feel their presence would be intimidating or where they feel their views would bias the conversations. They might also tend not to get involved if the subject is one in which they have no expertise thus giving them total freedom to observe the session, monitor the timing and make any changes on the fly as necessary.
- To join in lightly as a participant. In this case, the host does not sit with any of the groups but wanders around the room and listens in, only occasionally joining in the conversations. Again, trying not to get too involved in the conversations but standing a little way back from the group so that they can hear but making it clear with their body language that they do not intend to take part. Also, trying to choose their standing position carefully so that everyone in the group can see them and so they are not standing immediately behind someone.
- To join in fully as a participant. With groups of people whom the host knows well or in small groups, the host can choose to participate fully in the conversations either by joining a single table for each round or more often than not moving independently between the groups within each round.
The decision as to the degree of involvement is up to the host.
Whole group conversation
[Status: work in progress – rough notes]
This page is part of an online book on Conversational Leadership that I am in the process of writing.
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