Hello. I am Jack Martin Leith, a conference innovation consultant living in Bristol, in the west of England. I help create conferences that maximise learning, inspiration, interaction, community spirit and co‑creation.
May I introduce Peter Block, pictured here:
On his Twitter page (the source of the photo), he describes himself as “Author, Community Builder & Citizen of Cincinnati”.
Peter Block is a respected figure in the world of organisation development.
He is the recipient of the Organization Development Network’s 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award, and the author or co-author of eight books, including Flawless Consulting—A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used; The Answer to How Is Yes—Acting on What Matters; and Community—The Structure of Belonging.
You have just experienced a low-level demonstration of Peter Block’s connection before content principle.
Connection – We must establish a personal connection with each other. Connection before content. Without relatedness, no work can occur.
Source: Peter Block, Civic Engagement and the Restoration of Community: Changing the Nature of the Conversation (download pdf)
He advances this principle in the context of a “gathering”, which he defines as “an opportunity to deepen accountability and commitment through engagement”.
But the principle can also be applied to an online article.
Imagine that you’d arrived here via a search engine (perhaps you did) and found an article without the introductory text.
You may well have thought: “Who is this Jack Martin Leith character? And who is Peter Block?”
Your level of engagement with the content would probably have been lower. You may have hit the x icon and moved on.
Here in Bristol, we have a year-round programme of talks given by such illustrious people as Germaine Greer, Jimmy Wales, Billy Bragg, Brooke Magnanti, Stewart Brand and Brian Eno. Sounds unmissable, doesn’t it?
However, I have only been to one of the talks. It was like the worst kind of conference: stuffy lecture hall, theatre-style seating, an over-long talk from the visiting luminary, and a question and answer session moderated by a patrician chairperson.
Worst of all, there was no opportunity to talk with any of the people in the neighbouring seats before proceedings began.
I sat it out until the end. But I was never fully engaged with the content of the talk.
All it would have taken to transform the gathering was the following invitation from the chairperson:
“If you wish, you can introduce yourself to someone in a nearby seat—not someone you came with—and ask them what they are hoping to get from the talk.”
Five minutes would probably have done the trick. Ten at the most.
That’s a minimal time investment with a big potential payoff: deeper engagement, a heightened energy level in the room, a greater sense of community, and increased likelihood of repeat bookings.
Whenever you are hosting a meeting, workshop or conference, please remember principle number 1: Connection before content.
- Peter Block on Wikipedia
- Peter Block’s website
- Civic Engagement and the Restoration of Community: Changing the Nature of the Conversation, by Peter Block (download pdf)
- Connection before content: meetings that are knowledge-based, by Nancy Dixon