The Neutral Host

The Neutral Host

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

Be your Neutral Self

The first priority for the Talkaoke host is maximum engagement. The next priority is neutrality. It must be said that total neutrality is a desirable but unobtainable goal- something to try to get as close to as possible. As a host you have a massive impact on the conversation; what themes and threads you choose to follow, your tacit and inevitably uneven approval of comments made on the table, your need to ingratiate the more reluctant participants and your obligation to defend minority opinions.

Why be neutral?

The neutral host gains trust. Should an argument or controversy arise, you will be much better equipped to mediate it if you are not seen to be on one side rather than the other. Sometimes you can’t help being identified as closer to one side than the other. You cannot help being a particular age, gender, class, race, nationality etc. or representing the organisation you work for, but having been neutral in the conversation will have helped if things get ugly. They very rarely do, if, from the outset, you handle the conversation with sense of fairness, openness and charity.

You are both right

Your starting point is always “I concur with you” See if you can agree with everyone at the table. Other people can and should disagree with each other and you must encourage that by at least concurring with everyone. In this way you minimise the opprobium of disagreement which sometimes leads to people stifling their view. After each statement it is useful to sum up what the speaker has said with a headline. Your role as host is to give affirmation to the speaker that they have made a valuable contribution. It might seem inconsistent to agree with both sides of an argument but often it is possible and sometimes it can be a source of humour. See our page on humour.

Is this right? What do you think?

If you disagree with an opinion or know that what someone is saying is factually wrong, don’t contradict them. You can ask the audience at large to confirm or deny what you think is wrong, but it is not your place as host to provide any information, ideas or opinions.  If you feel critical of what is being said, the chances are somebody else will be too. If you are working with a Stooge, this is their moment to grab the mic and redress any inaccuracies, accusations or misapprehensions.

I have a great point to make!

Turn your opinions into questions. For most Talkaoke hosts, including myself, refraining from giving your opinion is an incredibly tough demand. This is good because it means you are keyed into the conversation. It took me about 5 years of hosting Talkaoke before I had the discipline not to weigh in with my point of view. As the host you must refrain from adding opinions or facts into the conversation. If you feel the need to add to the conversation, try to turn it into a question that is based on what has been said already. For example if the conversation is what kind of falafel and houmous go together and in your opinion falafel and houmous should not be eaten together. Don’t say “Falafel and houmous should not be eaten together” Say “Are falafel and houmous traditionally eaten together?” You will learn more this way.

If you feel cheated out of expressing your own opinion, let somebody else go in the middle. you can let off steam around the outside of the table.

Open questioning

Try to ask questions that open and are framed in a way where you are not expecting a particular answer.

As a host you are answerable for the mood. You are not answerable for the opinions. This means that everybody around the table should feel respected and protected. Defend minority opinions- especially those you are against. You will learn more this way.

The shape of the table and the participant led ethos of Talkaoke means that it is a perfect format to discuss heated topics without aggravation. It’s important however to spot the early signs of hostility and deescalate them. This is where your earlier neutrality will pay dividends. Be especially firm on comments that you feel are deliberately offensive to other people around the table. Don’t let a to and fro discussion between two opposed individuals to develop, without calming it down by asking other people in between. Try to generalise and depersonalise offensive comments. Slow down the conversation by speaking firmly and assertively and don’t give anyone the mic until you have slowly and objectively explained the context and all parties’ point of view before giving the offended party the microphone. Then solicit points from the less vocal people around the table to get a broader picture of the values at stake. Never condemn.

If you feel the conversation is too heated, make sure you only give the microphone to those people who are sitting down.

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