Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Bring Your Workshops Alive with the Sound of Music: Creating a Sonic Landscape

I facilitated a big global workshop last week- some 190 people attended- where we used music in a number of different ways in the event. First, as it was a large group, we used it for crisp starts and stops to our sessions: the music stopping gave a subtle audio cue to people, signalling a transition from the informal networking time, to the formal start of our session (more elegant than me shouting in the microphone for everyone to sit down).  We used it just prior to the start of the after lunch sessions to give an energy boost after the hour spent enjoying the lunch buffet. And we used music at the end of the day to create the mood for reflection and to usher in a reception and other evening events. We also wanted local music to give people the feeling of being in the host country (because we spent a lot of our time indoors in a space that could have been located anywhere on the planet). It also filled the vast, high-ceiling-ed and rather anonymous ballroom with warmth making our conversations feel more intimate.

Music can be a wonderful and useful instrument (pun intended) for a process designer when planning the choreography of an event. But I find it is one seldom used. TED does a good job of selecting songs with messages in the lyrics to start coffee breaks, and then tends to end those breaks with short videos (that can again have the effect of forward attention getting and a crisp start.)  Other than that it seems that music is infrequently  considered in a deliberate fashion to help create the overall atmosphere for dialogue and learning.  

What it takes to put a workshop to music

There might be some reasons for this - adding music adds tasks to the long list of materials, equipment, roles and responsibilities for a workshop. You need audio equipment, speakers, a playlist, and someone paying close attention to cue and cut the music. More importantly, you need a special talent to create the playlist in the first place - someone with a good broad knowledge of music who can select just the right piece for the right mood and, if there are lyrics, appropriate ones. All this adds considerable time to what might already be a busy and finely tuned event.

Not as easy as it sounds

Recently at our Bright Green Learning Academy training (Module 8: Practicing Facilitation Approaches and Methodologies) one of our participants ran a brainstorming on this exact topic: which pieces of music fit where in a workshop design? Interestingly, although it seemed an easy task, we all found it incredibly difficult to do on the fly, and found that some of our individual great ideas were certainly a matter of taste. The big lesson: Creating the sonic fabric of the workshop takes encyclopedic musical knowledge, careful consideration and time, but it can have thrilling effects when done astutely.

It turned out that the person who ran the exercise in our Module is himself a music aficionado and he took the exercise a step further a couple of weeks ago. He took a set of criteria  given to him by the meeting facilitator and used his own vast musical knowledge to create a sound design for an evening workshop (a Toastmasters meeting).

Here is what he proposed, with at least two suggestions for each part of the meeting. The jazzy feel matched the demographic in attendance and the after-hours feel of the evening event. Read through his proposals below and see if you can feel the surge of the music as the event progresses and the deliberate sonic ebb and flow proposed. Notice his thinking behind the choices:

Entrance: Soft energy/welcoming
Entrance:   Stan Getz & the Oscar Peterson Trio  
Why? Easy and welcoming.
Chet Baker 

Break:   Higher energy  
Break:    John Coltrane  - My Favourite Things  
Why? This piece is lively and gives a great jazz take on a known melody.  It's also 13:30 minutes;  just right for the break period.

John Coltrane  - My Favourite Things
Stan Getz & Bill Evans  (sax & piano) 
John Coltrane  - A Love Supreme   (a bit livelier)

Exit:   Positive vibe for teamwork and a good send-off: 
Exit:    Uptown funk (sax cover)  followed by Blue Train
Why? As the meeting ends, cue up this tune (Uptown Funk) and play it right after that final gavel hits the President's desk.  There is a punctuated start to the piece which gives way to the funky sax solo.  It's an attention grabber.  It's says 'Hey look here!'  and conveys a positive feeling for the exit. The piece however, is only 4 minutes long!   Bear this in mind because it is good enough as a punctuation mark to the evening but not long enough to keep things flowing for the 30-minute cleanup.Therefore, follow it up with Blue Train which will easily carry you through the length of the clean-up process. Just mind the time of the first track.  You'll need to make a smooth transition after the first song ends without there being a gap of silence which lasts too long. This confuses the listeners and puts a glitch in the sonic fabric (and we don't want that!) 

Uptown Funk:   Sax cover of Bruno Mars' Uptown funk.   (Lively funky sax send-off)
Play that funky music:  Sax cover

followed by:  
John Coltrane  - Blue Train

Sounds technical...

The technology to add music to your meeting or workshop doesn't have to be complicated,  For smaller meetings you can connect to the songs on YouTube from your telephone or iPad and broadcast them on a speaker via a Bluetooth connection.  For larger events like my conference, you need a sound system, but if you are showing any videos during the event you will probably have already amplifiers  hooked up and available

Bringing your workshops alive with the sound of music definitely takes some careful work, but using music strategically in your event can add real richness and energy to the learning landscape, connecting with people on a different level, and might help take your collaboration and results to new heights. 

(A big thanks to Christian Kranicke for his excellent soundscaping and for being willing to share it!)

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