Start with the Heart: A Warm Up to Consider

I could never have imagined I would start a meeting with personal images of joy… But, I did!

You have to understand, I was planning a tough meeting. It was a meeting to discuss common challenges and issues that have come up over the first year of one of our projects. I had no illusions: this could potentially be a difficult meeting, with more complaints than solutions.

I knew I needed to start off right. I knew I needed a warm-up rooted in the positive – something light, but also something uplifting.

So, here’s what I did…

In the week before the meeting, I asked participants to send me a picture and short description of something that brings them joy right now. I left the ask purposefully vague to allow participants to decide for themselves what to include.

I ended up with a great mix of pictures: families, pets, plants, places, and food!

During the meeting, after I welcomed everyone and reviewed the agenda, I reminded everyone of the images they had sent me. I started sharing my screen and invited everyone to sit back and enjoy the picture presentation, saying, “This is what brings each of you joy…”

As we watched in silence, I could see people’s faces light up and smile. A few participants shared positive comments via the chat. I watched an uncertain group transform into a group of colleagues happy to be there for a common purpose.

The warm-up brought us together. Click here to see the presentation.

When it was over, I thanked everyone for sharing so personally and we proceeded into the rest of the meeting. It went smoothly. The conversation moved naturally from challenges to solutions, and the mood was good.

I would not go so far as to say that my heart-felt warm-up ensured a great meeting, but it did certainly start us off on the right foot. It provided a positive space and allowed participants to connect with each other as humans.

I believe that successful warm-ups have four characteristics:

  • They are engaging. Warm-ups should be the first opportunity for participants to speak-up or share something with the rest of the group. This helps to break the ice and makes it easier to generate good discussion throughout the rest of your agenda. Invite all voices in early.
  • They are purposeful. You want some intentionality in the warm-up. For example, a meeting to discuss social media tactics might start off with a warm-up inviting participants to share good examples of social media campaigns. Or, they can be less connected to the agenda, as my example was above. But there should always be a point.
  • They are achievable. Warm-ups should be an easy first win for your meeting. This does not mean that you will not sometimes encounter difficult topics in your warm-up, but you want to make sure that what you are asking of the participants is straightforward and easy to accomplish. A successful warm-up sets you up to be successful in the rest of your meeting.
  • They often encourage heart sharing. Although not always the case, starting in the heart can make for a powerful beginning to a meeting or convening. Our stories, feelings and experience are stored in our heart – accessing that at in the first minutes of a gathering can help to connect people to each other and the content in a profound way. If you ensure that this sharing is also positive, you will most certainly create the space for deep dialogue, important sharing and courageous work.

Warm-ups are an important part of designing a meeting, especially when it is going to be over Zoom! Be sure not to overlook your warm-up the next time you are crafting an agenda – it just might be the introduction that your meeting needs.

How can you imagine using a warm-up like this one?

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David Robins ( joined the International Budget Partnership in August 2013, and is based in Washington, D.C. As a Program Officer for the Open Budget Initiative, he is responsible for data collection and analysis for the Open Budget Survey, as well as facilitating trainings and support to IBP partners, in-country peer reviewers, and government officials throughout the Survey process. Prior to joining IBP, he worked for community organizations in New Orleans, and held internships in the US and UK governments. David holds an MSc in International Politics from SOAS, University of London, where his studies focused on the role of non-state actors in governance and democratization.

Here is another blog about heart engagement.

Below are GLP blogs written by other IBP staff.

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