By Michael Kline
Let’s talk about the importance of starting your event with a check-in and ideas for deepening the experience.
The two big variables for check-ins are the size of the group and the length of the event. A smaller group or longer event both allow for longer check-in time. Conversely, a larger group or shorter event, means a shorter check-in. Regardless, always have a check-in. Always. Participants need to get their voice into the room to feel connected, otherwise, they might think they could listen to a recording and have a similar experience.
If you have a larger group for a one-day event, maybe it’s shouting out where they’re from, or maybe a milling exercise where everyone stands and introduces themselves to two new people around them. Or better yet, have them share with two people, something they’re grateful for today. This gets energy going in the room and makes everyone feel a little more connected and emotionally a little safer and will improve participation later. If people start the event by speaking anything to anyone, they are more likely to speak up later when you ask for input of any kind. We’ll do a separate article on gradients of safety, but if you ask questions, and no one answers, it’s probably because a lack of connection or emotional safety. The check-in is the place to start building your gradients of safety.
My happy place is in-person, transformational events, usually with 12-24 people spending 5-7 days together. In this setting, I want the deepest possible emotional sharing and processing for the magic to take place. Personally, I’m very comfortable with anything that shows up and handling it in front of a group. If this is not your jam, you can learn deeper processing skills, partner with someone who has this expertise, or perhaps have a supporting assistant in the back of the room who can handle everything that pops up. I’ve been providing back of the room support at Jack Canfield retreats since 2015 and I’ve witness miraculous transformations.
With this group size (12-24), an opening circle is ideal. In fact, I prefer an opening circle check-in every morning. Remember, this is a blend of right and left-brain work. We want emotions and spontaneity, and to do it well, requires a little strategy. If you provide a typical ice-breaker opening question, or leave it to each person to introduce themselves, it will probably stay pretty surface level and frankly boring for everyone except the person speaking. We want to open with a bang. Everyone should know from the start they are in for something different, and they are getting their money’s worth, so it’s time to buckle up! Start creating safe and sacred space from the first moment.
For deeper work, I like to use a sentence lead instead of a question. The responses tend to come from the heart, compared to answering a question, which tends to come from the head. Start by modeling it by going first. For example: “My name is Mike and I’m from Florida and I’m here to make some new connections and explore my next steps”. A snoozer in my opinion. Still, it’s way better than talking about my job selling insurance. We can increase the safety level, by normalizing what often scares people – vulnerability. Let’s turn up the emotional temperature by modelling a deeper share: “My name is Mike and I’m here because I’m tired of putting myself last and I want to learn to love myself and find something to be excited about in my life. I claim my seat at the table”. Feel the difference? Your sample share can be something true for you today, or an example – perhaps sharing how you might have answered this back when you started your own transformational journey.
The point is to model what you’re looking for. If you do an example, be sure to point out that this is how you might have answered this a few years ago, or that its an example of things we hear a lot. Then, be sure to do your current, true, vulnerable share – for example: “I’m Mike, and I’m here to share my highest gifts in the most authentic way possible, to inspire your transformation and expansion into whatever your next step is. I claim my seat by the fire”. I find asking them to claim their seat is very powerful because most people never really felt like they belonged at the preverbal table, or fire, or wherever you are doing your circle.
I learned an even deeper opening check-in as part of The Circle Way ®, as taught by Peerspirit. We invite participants to bring a personal object with them that represents (something you choose), perhaps where they are in their recovery journey, or their connection to creative writing – or whatever it is you’re working on at the retreat. You model your check-in, sharing your object, and what it means to you and why you chose it. When done well, I guarantee that by the third person sharing, the whole group will be in tears, because people have powerful and personal meaning to be there. This is setting the dial at a much higher emotional temperature.
For the highest setting, what we do at RIM training retreats, is we start with a deep immersive RIM activity. It’s a closed-eye experience that feels a little like guided imagery, but it gets its power in the nuanced way it’s co-created. When participants open their eyes usually in tears, we give them time to journal first, then share. When complete, everyone feels a deep connection and knows they are in a safe place with kindred spirits on a similar journey. No one shares about their work, or boring life situations, because no one’s bio is an interesting as their soul. I have spent 7 days with people, bonding with them deeply, learning all their values, fears, dreams and passions. I have no idea where they live or what they do for a living. People are not starving for networking. People are starving for real connection, to be seen and heard and loved.
If you’d like to talk more about safe and sacred spaces, I’d love to hear from you!
Michael J. Kline is a Teacher, Healer and Firekeeper. His credentials include Master Certified RIM Facilitator and Licensed Trainer, Certified Canfield Success Trainer, Certified Barrett Consultant, and Owner/Partner at Con Smania Costa Rica. You can reach him through his website www.intus.life, or e-mail email@example.com