There’s two things I make sure to bring attention to at the start of an event: the photo policy and the common language in the room. I don’t want to expose anyone who’s deviating from the majority though. Here’s an easy way to do that.
This post is part of a series I call “From The Community Toolbox”. I hope it serves both people who want to join us at SoCraTes Day Berlin but would like to know what they’re getting into first, and those who’d like to create something like SoCraTes Day Berlin themselves.
This post has to start with one of the most crucial lessons I had to learn in recent years, one that is humbling and – to be quite honest – sounds fairly silly and super ignorant once spelled out: my perspective as a privileged white man blinds me for other perspectives and subconsciously yet significantly shapes the impact I have in the communities I’m in. To overcome that, sometimes this means I have to do my homework and apply proper care regarding something I am generally unaware about – because I’m not affected – and sometimes I have to learn it the hard way when a privilege of mine is stripped away and I find myself at the side of the table I’m not used to sit at.
In recent years, I started attending events in countries where I don’t speak any of the local languages. I found myself more detached from the group whenever they would switch to a language I didn’t speak. Yes, we had this conversation in other communities, but exclusively for events held in Germany, so I wasn’t ever affected or could relate to the experience. But noticing how difficult it was to feel part of the community at those events, no matter how welcoming the framing was, convinced me that there needs to be more awareness regarding the language that is spoken in public.
At SoCraTes Day Berlin, our policy thus is to speak English exclusively. If people prefer a private conversation to happen in their native language, I ask them to retreat to the sidelines as to signal that they’re having a private conversation.
Photos! (CN: stalking)
Another example has been an incident that left a lasting impression on me – enough that I keep telling this story at every event I facilitate and each time, I can feel a lump in my throat. I once co-facilitated a company-internal workshop where one of the attendees stressed to please not have their photo taken. I didn’t quite understand given that this has been a private event anyways but happily complied. In the afternoon, one of our closing sessions was to write a letter to your future self, put it in an envelope and address it to yourself. We would then mail it to you after eight weeks to give the attendees another chance to reflect on their learnings.
It was during that session that the attendee who earlier asked for their photo not being taken grew very distressed, to the point that they had to leave the room. I later found out how their insistence on the photo policy and this incident were connected: in their past, they were the subject of a stalker who would crawl social-media to find their workspace location and try to get their home address. A deeply disturbing situation that many of my friends can sadly relate to and certainly one that gives good reason to not wanting to have your photo (or any information about you) shared on social-media. It most certainly drove home the point for me on why enforced photo policies are important for an event to be safe.
How to gather census and make your point
Needless to say, I enforce both a strict language policy and a no-photos policy at my events. I tell these stories and make sure to help the attendees understand why this is important, but to really make the point, I ask for their opinion on both a language and whether to have a no-photo-policy.
Now intuitively, one would just ask “Who here doesn’t speak German?” (German being the default) and “Who here doesn’t want to have their photo taken?” (being fine with your photo being taken being the default), but that would leave those “few” deviating from the default having to expose themselves to the group.
Remember, as one single person not speaking German or not wanting to have their photo taken means that the event will take place in English or with a no-photo-policy, I’m not interested in consensus, number of votes for either or anything.
If I switch those questions around, asking “Who here speaks German?” and “Who is happy to have their photo taken?”, this will usually raise most hands and will leave those who don’t raise their hand less exposed. And conveniently enough, I just need to look for a single hand not being up anyways, so the whole process takes only a few seconds.
After everyone has put their hands down again, I conclude either with
“Since everyone had their hands up, the event’s language will be German.”
“You are allowed to take photos, but please still ask for permission to publish them. Please respect people’s request if they would like you to delete the photo.”
or, in case at least one hand didn’t go up, but without exposing how many didn’t raise their hands or even singling them out:
“Okay, so our common language in the room is English, so please stick to that in every conversation. If you want to have a private conversation, please retreat so it’s obvious to everyone that you’re having a private conversation that is no one else’s business.”
“People would like to not have their photos taken, so we enforce a strict no-photo-policy. Presenters are free to ask for their photos being taken beforehand, but under no circumstances are you allowed to take any photo of anyone except those who gave you explicit permission. Not in the background, not with their back turned to you.”
Using this approach we gathered the necessary information to make the call on either common language or photo-policy, we did our best to make sure that we’re not exposing those deviating from the default – no matter the reason, and we can now move on to the introduction of our Code of Conduct, the format we’ll be doing and how the rest of the day will go down.