A Magical Meeting Story from Mohamed Ali, a creative human enabler, facilitator, and service designer from Dubai.
Welcome to Magical Meetings Stories, a series where I chat with professional facilitators, meeting practitioners, leaders, and CEOs across industries about their meeting culture. We dive deep into a specific magical meeting they’ve run, including their approach to facilitation design, and their tips and tricks for running meetings where people thrive.
Today’s story is with Moe Ali, a facilitator, service designer, and creative human enabler based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
I spoke with Moe about the Balcony Bunch meeting, the reason behind it, and what risks he encountered.
A Meeting in Motion
Moe started the Balcony Bunch as a meeting designed to connect otherwise disconnected creatives in Dubai. The idea for this meeting is that it starts as a guided walk through the streets and parks, ending where attendees sit at a balcony for the rest of the meeting.
Moe was inspired by The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker to create a meeting that would establish deeper roots with his fellow creatives. The Art of Gathering teaches facilitators how to create high-powered gatherings that move beyond the mundane to meetings that matter.
Moe created the Balcony Bunch for creatives living in Dubai for longer than ten years as a way to grow deeper relationships. In Dubai, building relationships that span months or years is incredibly challenging due to the city’s transitory nature. Moe discovered that many creatives were no longer incentivized to meet new people so he designed the Balcony Bunch as an opportunity to soften hearts and awaken minds to true community.
Let’s take a closer look at Moe’s process to learn what made this meeting magical.
In a Balcony Bunch meeting, the main goal is to generate trust and build real connections and genuine relationships by breaking the superficial barriers of roles and titles by asking participants “How do you do?” rather than “What do you do?”
- No phone calls, no data
- Understand the prompts beforehand
- Wear comfortable walking shoes
In this meeting, the facilitator will choose the following:
- Location: Held outdoors
- Participants: Eight people hoping to deepen their relationships
- Supplies: Food and drinks for the balcony
- Google docs
- Text messages
- Google Maps
- Deeper relationships between like-minded people
- Shared empathy amongst participants
In this particular meeting, Moe invited eight like-minded creatives that had been living in Dubai for 10 years or more.
Plan the Workshop
- Length of time: Approximately two hours
- Finding the location
- Meditation and visualization
- Following the guided path
- Popcorn style discussion
- The Location
- Meditation and visualization
- Meditation and visualization
- The First Prompt (Past)
- Walking conversation
- The Second Prompt (Future)
Before the Meeting
The facilitator may contact the participants ahead of time to set the tone for the meeting. Moe asked questions such as:
- Who would you like to attend?
- What would you like them to walk away with?
- What would make you happy?
These prompts help attendees keep in mind that they’re participating in someone else’s happiness and helping them walk away with something of value.
Location plays a large role in the Balcony Bunch. Having the location be part of the meeting gives the attendees a sense of purpose and curiosity.
In Moe’s session, he sends participants a location via Google Maps where they all gather to meet. Before starting the meeting, he asks participants to sit in silence as they meditate by a fountain. At this time, a breathing exercise serves as a meditative and mindful practice while the others arrived.
Once all participants arrived, Moe asked them to visualize everything they had experienced in the past year. After the brief visualization, Moe paired everyone up to begin the walking phase of the meeting.
The First Prompt
Participants begin their walking conversations as they answer the first prompt, discussing what they experienced in the past year. The guided path serves as a way for participants to focus completely on their partner’s answers. As the facilitator leads the way, participants discuss the prompt from the first phase and recount the experiences from the last year.
In the walking conversation, Moe encouraged participants to move beyond discussing roles.
“I always feel that the worst way to get people to talk to each other is by introducing work, or labels related to the work that people do because people always end up talking about the things that excite them if given the chance.”
By having participants share their experiences from the past year, they were able to “widen the net” and have a truly human experience.
In a secluded area like a balcony or a garden, the facilitator brings the pairs back together to reconvene and find patterns in their experiences over food and drinks.
In Moe’s meeting, he walked his group to a secluded garden area, near a reflecting pool. Moe used water throughout his meeting as a point of inflection and reflection as he asked participants what they noticed on their walk.
Participants shared what they discussed in a popcorn-style conversation while Moe weaved each person’s responses into other attendees’ answers. Moe noted who would perk up and show empathy in their body language and facial expressions as patterns emerged within each person’s story.
The Second Prompt
The second prompt acts as a way to bond two people in their shared vulnerability. After the first conversation closes, the facilitator introduces the second prompt with questions like:
- What are you looking forward to creating over the coming year?
- What do you want to invite?
- What are you moving towards that you would like to bring into being this year?
After sharing these questions with the group, Moe paired partners that showed the most empathy to each other’s stories. The goal of this pairing was to allow each person in the conversation to feel heard and seen.
As each partner showed some level of empathy for the other, answering questions about their hopes and goals for the future was an effective way to create an incredible bond in just a few hours. As Moe shares, “The ties that bind were fairly thin. However, they got thicker by the end of the evening. And I think what was unique about this. Strangers coming together and within that hour and a half, they were relating to each other in a way that they hadn’t before.”
Lighting a Cerebral Fire
The Balcony Bunch serves as an unconventional meeting that taps into the magic of human emotion and shared experiences. Having a meeting in motion allows for a certain physicality that helps participants get out of their heads and into the moment.
Likewise, by negating the roles and work responsibilities of each person, attendees can see the humanity in one another, allowing for a level of vulnerability usually not seen in the workplace.
When asked about the potential pitfalls of this meeting style, Moe pointed out that running this type of session may be too risky for a typical work environment. To truly create this type of meeting with the potential pitfalls in mind, it’s important to find the space between the high risk, high reward setting of a retreat and the laid-back familiar environment of a post-work mixer.
By finding the space in between, facilitators can create an intentional environment that encourages authentic connection. Though this space is hard to navigate, Moe believes it’s worth the risk:
“Now, keep in mind, I’ve only done this a few times. I haven’t done it in a way that I’ve been able to track any sort of metrics. The only metric I have is the sentiment from the people. If I were to ask them now three years later about this meeting, they’d be like, “Oh yeah, I remember the Balcony Bunch. Yeah, that was great.”
Do you have your own Magical Meeting Story to tell?
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