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How to Master the Art of Facilitation and Hosting – with Mary Alice Arthur

How to Master the Art of Facilitation and Hosting - with Mary Alice Arthur

Mary Alice Arthur is a story activist, an Art of Hosting steward, and a fantastic facilitator. A perfect guest for Workshops Work, in other words.

Mary Alice joined Myriam to share what we can all learn from the Art of Hosting, our individual and collective stories, and from times of crisis. Especially apt for this moment we find ourselves in.

Their conversation ranged from fire and the power of destruction to rewiring our fears into excitement, with plenty of laughter and lightness in between!

What follows is a brief look at what was a brilliant and broad conversation. If the snippets below interest you, you would be well-advised to listen to the full episode.


Story activism – workshops as stories

Mary Alice is a story activist, as well as an Art of Hosting practitioner (and many other things) – the Art of Hosting is a complementary practice to many other forms of facilitation – so her perspective on stories and storytelling was especially valuable and insightful.

“How groupwork unfolds is like how a good story unfolds”, says Mary Alice.

The beginning sets the group off on a journey, about setting the group up for something to happen.

“The middle is about confusion, conflict, and challenge”, notes Mary Alice. “We don’t like stories that don’t have that in because there’s not enough there – they’re boring!”

The ending is about consolidation and completion – “now we know and we are going in this direction.”

Creating great workshops means “helping people stay in the storyline” and remembering that each stage has, in itself, a beginning, middle, and end. “Not all of us are in the same place in the story at the same time” and we need to be mindful of that as facilitators and as participants in workshops.


Finding our shared story

Imagine a diamond shape – in the Art of Hosting, this is referred to as the breath pattern – with the top point representing the moment of divergence, the points in the middle as emergence, and the point at the bottom representing convergence.

This is the pattern groups often follow when they come together to work towards a goal. The point of emergence can also be called the ‘groan zone’ – “people don’t like being in that”, but “it’s a natural part of how groups come together”.

“You can’t guarantee who’s going to be in the groan zone at what time.”

“People with very analytical mindsets… want to be in convergence really quickly – ‘why do we have to have this touchy-feely stuff at the beginning’”, Mary Alice chuckles.

Our job as facilitators is to say: “hang in there with us, because we are really going to need you at this point in the process.”

We have to “show people where we’re going to go” – ask people where they are in the storyline, draw a line from wall to wall and have them stand in the place that represents their position. “Sometimes that’s a stunning revelation to people – that we’re not all in the same space.”

“That’s okay – that’s how humans are. They’re not all going to be in the same space at the same time. So then it is the artful dance of making a design that encourages people to be in, then to be open, then to get on with it. Step in, step up, step out.”

In sharing our stories, we share our wisdom

Being part of a collective is powerful for groupwork and changemaking, but it has wider, more long-term impacts than just a single moment of change.

Mary Alice points to an activity in Art of Hosting called ‘proaction café’, “where people can directly input into different people’s projects, almost like consultants showing up at your table, offering business wisdom.”

She points to this open, sharing culture in workshops as being pivotal to the progress and experience of its participants.

“Working in a very participatory way means you get resonant learning – everybody learns from someone else.”

“My objective when I’m working with a group is always to up the collective wisdom… When somebody writes a PhD, I think that’s fabulous. I think it’s even more fabulous when we create collective wisdom together, because when we’re learning together, when we’re in the story together, we’re actually increasing our collective possibility massively.”

For Mary Alice, this is why storytelling is so integral to the process of change and growth.

Through stories, “we do collective sense – and meaning-making, leading to collective intelligence.”

Do you want create collective wisdom in your workshops?

Listening to more of Mary Alice’s thoughts on the subject would be the perfect place to start, if you do.

Her conversation with Myriam is enlightening, engaging, and inspiring. Tune in for much more discussion about the power of our stories, managing and directing our emotional responses, and how we can all respond to the crisis we are currently experiencing.

Dive into the conversation in the full episode or find Mary Alice on social media, where she is as vivacious and engaging as she is on podcasts! You can find all the links to connect with Mary Alice in the show notes for the podcast episode.


You can listen to the show on your favourite podcast player, searching for “Workshops Work” or stream the episodes on!


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© 2020 workshops work

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