Autobiographical Introductions

At the start of a workshop, discussion group, or CPR space (e.g., a Collaborative Exploration), each participant takes the same extended amount of time—at least five minutes; perhaps as long as fifteen minutes—to describe where you have come from—how they came to be a person who would join the workshop, discussion group, or other activity on the topic it has—as well as where you would like help going. The form of the autobiographical introduction will differ from person to person—some may choose to start with their childhood and move forward; others may choose to elaborate on recent activities before making reference to some formative experiences. Some may emphasize events; others how events were experienced.  The focus for the group is on listening—the speaker should not be questioned except to clarify and name or point that did not come across clearly. If a participant finishes the introduction before the allotted time, the facilitator invites them to elaborate on some aspect. The additional material that then emerges often provides new richness and depth to this story.

When participants have the opportunity to introduce themselves in this way, many points of potential interaction are exposed. To foster connections, participants are encouraged to take notes when they see intersections with themselves and areas that spark other interest or curiosity. After each introduction, participants can provide the speaker with Connections and Extensions Feedback.

If the time for each introduction is long, it helps to take a break after every third speaker and have discussions in pairs about what is emerging for the listeners. At the end, pairwise discussions can allow participants to air what they forgot to say that is significant to them. If time permits, the group as a whole can use the turn-taking Dialogue Process to share what arose in the pairs or otherwise to respond to what was being said.

When autobiographical interactions work as intended, a group has not only an abundance of points of potential interaction to build on, but also a basis for trust and taking risks with the other participants (see Cultivating Collaborators).