The Structure of a Peak Living Network Open Support Meeting
Anyone can organize a PLN open support meeting. If you organize a meeting, you can choose to facilitate it yourself or find another volunteer to facilitate; no special training is necessary.
A meeting can take place in a private home if someone is comfortable hosting; otherwise look for a donated meeting space at a library or church. The last choice, if you don’t find another option, is to pay for a meeting space and ask people to chip in to help pay for it. Make sure, though, that no one feels pressured to contribute financially and that no one stays away because of money.
At least one copy of the statement of principles should be available at all meetings. If you can bring enough to hand out to everyone, even better. You might also bring handouts of “How to Split Time.”
Steps to Successfully Organizing an Open Meeting
All meetings should have a facilitator. Whoever offered the meeting should facilitate unless he or she arranged with someone else to do it. In other words, who is to facilitate should be determined before people gather, to help all participants feel welcomed and secure.
The facilitator announces when it’s time to begin. It’s a great idea for him or her to begin the meeting with a review of some or all of the statement of principles, especially if there are people attending for the first time.
The facilitator finds a volunteer to be time-keeper for the meeting.
The facilitator announces the “What is going well?” round of the meeting. Each participant takes a turn to report on recent things that have been good in their life, successes they have had, aspects of life they have been happy about, or other sources of positive feeling from their recent lives. Participants are asked to stay away from discussion of their distresses during this early phase of the meeting; discipline regarding this point will pay off for everyone.
An appropriate per-person time-limit should be chosen by the facilitator for this phase; generally no more than two minutes per person for groups up to 10 people, and no more than one minute per person for groups larger than 10. The time-keeper tells people if their time is up, but during this phase of the meeting people usually will share the “new and good” that they want to share without using up their maximum time.
The facilitator then announces that it’s time for the main support section of the meeting. This part involves a little math. The facilitator needs to divide up the remaining time equally among the participants, leaving five to ten minutes (depending on the size of the group) for the closing section of the group. So let’s say:
- We have eight people (including the facilitator, who also takes a turn)
- There are 70 minutes remaining
- We want to leave a six-minute closing time
- We divide 64 minutes by 8 people, which means 8-minutes per person
- There is always a little slippage, so to allow for this we give everyone a 7-minute turn
These turns are the time for each person to speak about whatever they want to speak about, or sit quietly with the group’s attention, or cry, or any other reasonable way they would like to use their time and soak up the group’s caring attention.
The time-keeper needs to tell people when they have two minutes left, and then tell them when the time is up. When a participant’s time is up they need to stop, even if they are at a heavy point in what they are talking about. This is a challenging point but an extremely important one for your open support meetings to be successful. The point of the two-minute warning is to give the person who is speaking time to gather themselves and wrap up their turn. If they need additional support or attention, they need to approach someone and ask for some additional time after the group; if group process isn’t strictly respected, the energy of the group will rapidly dissipate and people will stop coming. In other words, no “just one more quick thought” stuff is permitted during this part of the meeting; when the person’s time is up, we move on.
(If you are really concerned about how someone is doing at the end of their turn, offer to spend a little time checking in with them after the meeting is over.)
At the two-minute warning, the person speaking also has the option to open up the rest of their time for feedback from the group. If the person wants feedback, they can specify that:
- They want support and validating comments only (in other words, no suggestions)
- Suggestions about dealing with the feelings are okay
- Suggestions about action are okay
Even when the person expresses being open to suggestions, though, the group should make sure to keep comments mostly in the “support and validation” category.
At the end of each person’s turn, he/she has the opportunity to declare that what they shared is closed, meaning that no one is to ask them about it later, share similar stories, make suggestions, or refer to what they spoke about in any other way.
In all cases, nothing that the person shared can be mentioned to anyone outside the group, whether the speaker declares that what they said is closed or not. In other words, calling it closed just adds an additional layer of privacy, where listeners are not even to discuss what was said with the person who said it.
After everyone has taken their turns, the facilitator guides a quick round where each participant shares something that they are looking forward to in the coming days or weeks. This closing section is aiming at a length of about five minutes total, so just a minute or less per person.
Everyone thanks the facilitator and the time-keeper, and people can share specific appreciations of the facilitator’s work if they wish to (and it is great when they do).
Announce when the next meeting is.
Make sure that everyone who wants a hug before they leave gets one!
As people are gathering their stuff and preparing to leave, a great opportunity arises for people to share contact information with anyone else that they’re interested in splitting time with. Please, though, don’t ask anyone to get together socially, as open meetings are a space where everyone should be able to attend without concern that anyone else will ask them for dates or to get together except to split time. (And a polite “not for now, thank you” is completely acceptable if you are asked to split time with someone and prefer not to!)
The Peak Living Network is a learning process for all of us, so please send feedback about what is working well and not working well in your Open Support Meetings to peaklivingnetwork@.