Common Language: Experience-Sharing Gives Your Meeting an Advantage

Effective experience-sharing with your meeting’s stakeholders can result in clearer communication and better alignment, and it can help set and manage expectations.

Imagine you’re in your hotel room in Athens, Greece, at 9 p.m. It’s 12 hours before your major leadership conference’s keynote speaker—whom you’ve thoroughly prepped, both onsite and in the months leading up to the conference—is set to take the stage in front of more than a thousand people.

You don’t want to ‘should’ all over yourself.

You’re feeling pretty good about where things stand when your phone rings. It’s your chapter leader, who utters these nightmarish words: “You need to find a new keynote speaker for tomorrow morning.”

Unfortunately, this wasn’t an imaginary scenario for Scott Wilson, PMP, the chapter learning director for the Entrepreneurs’ Organization.

Wilson shared the story yesterday in his session with Leslie Baum, EO’s global learning director, at ASAE’s Springtime Expo. After getting the bad news, he immediately jumped into action, going through the list of 11 workshop speakers who were also at the conference. He had to decide which one of them could pull together a keynote by 7:30 a.m., so they could be prepped and on stage before it was “go time.”

With his sights set on one person, he called the hotel’s main desk and asked to be connected to her room. She picked up the phone, and Wilson told her the situation. “Luckily, she told me the word I wanted to hear: yes,” he said.

While she had experience working in her favor—she was nine months into a yearlong speaking tour—she told Wilson she didn’t want to go with a speech she’d given time and time again. Instead, she wanted to try something new. Wilson was open to it, and they discussed the details over the phone.

Hours later, she took the stage with an emotional and personal speech that left many in the audience in tears, according to Wilson. “It was phenomenal,” he said.

But it would have never been possible if he and the last-minute keynoter did not have the long-term relationship they did, or, more important, mutual trust in one another. Wilson credits that strong relationship to the experience-sharing model of communication that EO promotes to both its staff and members: the Gestalt Language Protocol.

Baum and Wilson described the model and discussed how actively using this technique to form a common language with key stakeholders (vendors, attendees, sponsors, exhibitors) will give you and your meetings a competitive edge.

What is Gestalt?

Gestalt is two-fold. The first part is the Gestalt Language Protocol, which creates a safe environment and supports those engaging in experience-sharing. It involves asking clarifying questions, sharing negative and positive experiences, writing down questions and thoughts, and paraphrasing and confirming what was said—not what you thought you heard.

“You don’t want to ‘should’ all over yourself,” said Baum. “Remember, you’re not telling the person what to do or giving advice, you’re sharing your own experience.”

The second part is a mindset. “This is where the brain starts to catch up with your words,” said Baum. It helps people to empathize and understand others’ perspectives, think more creatively, be better listeners by not giving advice, and improve storytelling. This mindset encourages people to find their own answers.

What it comes down to, according to Baum and Wilson, is that you want to speak from experience, rather than give advice, and remember that what’s in it for you is the same as what’s in it for them. “To do that, there’s some simple [steps] you can follow,” said Wilson. “The first is to tell your story. The second is to use the word ‘I’ and avoid the word ‘you.’”

Baum also shared three other words to avoid: should, would, could. “They are all very ‘me-driven’ and come across as if you own the situation and don’t trust the person you’re speaking to.”

what does it mean for Meetings?

Now that you have the basics of the method, can you think of places where you may want to try out experience-sharing communication as it relates to your meetings and conferences?

Baum and Wilson shared a few scenarios where the model could be helpful:

  • A hotel sales manager is being inflexible with your requests.
  • A caterer or printer quotes you different pricing from what was quoted originally.
  • A speaker won’t tweak her content to better relate it to your audience.
  • An organizing committee wants a session format that you know is logistically challenging.

“There’s a level of transparency and honesty that you give off when you come from your own experience and—to use a Texas Hold ’Em analogy—put all your cards out on the table,” Wilson said. “It shows that you trust the person, support them in the situation. All this will likely lead to a better goal alignment and long-term relationship with them.”

That could translate into more attendees and exhibitors, a discount for your association, more sponsorship dollars, or a great new session format because you and another person worked through an issue together. What meeting planner wouldn’t want any of those things?

Have you ever tried experience-sharing or something similar when communicating with vendors, members, or clients? Let me know how it turned out in the comments.


Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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