Get The Flow Going!

Part of the Take Control of the Hole series to help you become a Talkaoke Host

Hosting Talkaoke is a performance

Your presence helps to 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 being on a talk show. If you are uncomfortable, they will be too. If you are disinterested, anxious, embarrassed, they will feel it too. If you are enthusiastic, calm, relaxed and enjoying yourself, participants will mirror your mood. If you truly expect people to sit down and get involved in the conversation, they are much more likely to.

Keep calm and carry on!

Sometimes, something will go wrong. The radio mic may pick up interference, everyone might get up and leave the table at once, it might start raining. It may seem pointless, but even if you’re just there chatting to one person for half an hour, keep going. Eventually, it will pick up again – as long as there is at least one participant around -you just need to keep trying without seeming like you are making too much effort. If you’re comfortable with talking to one person, then every extra participant is a bonus.

Don’t worry if it doesn’t work

It might sound confusing. A lot of the advise on these pages seems paradoxical. You need to be enthusiastic and relaxed. You need to be neutral and personal. You must agree with everyone. 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 participants. If you give it all your energy and it doesn’t work out – don’t worry. You did your best. There are moments when the chemistry is not there and it’s the wrong time to talk. It’s not your fault.

Don’t worry about getting the facts wrong

Knowledge of any given subject is always useful for hosting Talkaoke, because you will then know the cleverest, stupid question to ask. However it is not essential. In a community of experts, everybody should be able to explain what they are talking about. If they can’t explain, it’s a very good challenge for them to try. They will certainly learn more about communicating their subject. In a mixed field, mutual comprehension is even more important. People are generally reluctant to admit they haven’t a clue what is being said. You need to be the least knowledgeable in the room and ask on their behalf.

If you are conversant in 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 morally right. People love to demonstrate their knowledge to others, and that can be the attraction of Talkaoke. That is the participants’ prerogative, not yours. You can still question inaccuracies and misconceptions, but let other participants do the correcting. If you are questioned directly and nobody else around the table knows the answer, then perhaps get someone around the table to consult wikipedia or other online source! Failing these options, it is only then, out of desperation, appropriate to chime in with your own opinions or facts.

You might be asked about the process of Talkaoke itself. Warning!- talking about the process of Talkaoke itself generally makes for a very dry conversation. It is the snake eating its own tail. Try to get tangential!

You are not the expert!

In fact the opposite. Try not to give facts or correct other people even when you know them to be wrong. That is the privilege of someone else around the table. You can throw a statement out to the audience you think might be dubious, but if nobody corrects it, for this audience, it must be true!

Remembering people’s names

Memory is context specific. I’m not sure how I remember people’s names. I spin round and remember the names geographically according to where people are sitting. I often get it wrong. It doesn’t matter. People will forgive you. When we worked with professional sports commentators, one thing I realised is that sometimes they get the name wrong. Nobody generally notices. Of course in this case, the misnamed person will notice but they won’t get offended.

If you are relaxed, enjoying yourself, paying attention and truly in the moment, it is much easier to remember names. If you are anxious about doing a good job, or worried whether you are talking about the right subject, then it is much harder.

Do a round of names just to keep everybody involved.

A round of names is an undemanding way to keep those participants, who haven’t said anything, involved in the discussion. I periodically do a round of names unless the conversation is moving too quickly.

Sum it up

Kate gets a handle on the conversation

The “sum up” is a very important skill in Talkaoke. It involves thinking of the conversation as a series of tabloid headlines. It has multiple uses.

1. Sometimes there are many themes going around the table. If left unattended these threads will unravel. Sum up the key points on the table. It will add coherence to the conversation. A skilled host will sum up the conversation in a way that concisely links diverse ideas. These headlines can be quite loose. Sometimes, just like a tabloid headline writer, I deliberately paraphrase or misquote someone to get a reaction going. It’s more about stimulating people around the table. When you are doing these recaps, look at everybody’s faces to see what provokes the strongest response.

2. Quite often long-winded people will make a point and then repeat the same point in a slightly different way and then make an identical statement again in a subtlely modified form. You get the picture? What they are actually seeking is affirmation. That’s where you can help. Sum up their point in as few words as possible, Give it some gravitas. They will feel that they have made an important contribution.

3. If you turn the “sum up” into a question to pose to passers-by, it is an effective way to invite people to the table, because it saves words. People can ignore an invitation to participate, or an explanation, but somehow they can’t ignore a direct question.

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 them a number of times. Ask them “are you a smoker?” or “should smoking be banned in public?”

Oops! I forgot what I was going to say

If someone forgets what they were going to say, generally they will remember if you “rewind”. Make a one sentence recap of what the last three people have said in reverse chronological order (see the sum up, above). Don’t worry if you have forgotten some things yourself. You are not a tape recorder. You will be surprised how well this reminds people what they were going to say.

People want to talk about two totally different subjects !?!

As the host you can be forthright about your desire to achieve a consensus in the middle of the table. If you sense the conversation forking into different paths you need to highlight the options and either choose a definite path and sum it up in that way, (see above) or ask the audience which direction they want to take the conversation. The most creative thing you can do is link the two topics together. For example if one person wants to talk about depletion of the rainforest, and another person wants to talk about open relationships, maybe your question could be “how does single living contribute to environmental destruction?” or “is there a link between mahogany and monogamy?” Use your imagination. Linking disparate subjects will give you new insights into both.

Final Thoughts

When people get up to leave it’s really valuable to get a “Final Thought” before they go. This is where your practice of looking around the table continuously will pay dividends. If someone else is speaking while someone gets up to leave, hold on to that departing participant (either physically, gesturally, or facially) to retain them. With the first chance you get – the first pause for breath in the conversation – ask them for their final thought before they go. This is usually an insightful comment about the conversation so far, a potential new line of conversation, or something meaningful about the wider event or format itself.

It will take a bit of time to get used to all of these ideas. Aside from listening to people intently and being the referee, it’s quite different from chairing a debate. Once you get the feel of these skills, have a look at the Tricks of the Trade.

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