The Art of Hosting

The Catalyst: questions about an event to help (young) people change the world

<I adapted this post from a mail I sent to the AoH maillist because someone suggested I might get more answers here.>

Dear all,

With this post I would like to tell you all what a group of friends and myself in The Netherlands are working on. And we would like to ask you some questions since we are very new to the Art of Hosting. It has turned out to be a long post, so bear with me. :-)

I first encountered the Art of Hosting last December and recently I attended my first AoH training in Stockholm (on the beautiful island Ëkskaret).

However, already in the beginning of 2013 a group of friends and myself started a series of events to help (young) people change the world for the better. All of us work and live in The Netherlands and up till now all of the events have been in the city of Utrecht. The five of us know a lot of people who have a lot of experience, drive and energy to make the world a better place. But we also see that it is difficult to actually get started on an idea or to actually know what idea to work on.

So we started “The Catalyst”. This initiative is meant to bring active people together to:

  • Find and meet each other.

  • Discuss existing ideas.

  • Together create new ideas.

  • Support each other in taking action. Either by providing “brain power” at the events or by helping out.

  • Gather experiental and theoretical knowledge about taking action and creating new ideas.

When we look ahead we envision some sort of regular event/meeting/conversation where people get together to contribute in whatever way suits them best. It could perhaps be a recurring Open Space where (just as an example) the following sessions could take place:

  • Tables with regular meetings, people making decisions and getting work done on their current project.

  • A table where a group explains what went wrong in their project so that those interested in it can learn from it and perhaps avoid the same mistakes.

  • A table where someone is giving some sort of lecture/teaching on a theoretical subject (for example on the economy or something practical like how to start a foundation).

  • Tables with (philosophical) discussions and brainstorms about the state of society and what to do.

  • And perhaps a table hosted by one of the Open Space hosts to explain “The Catalyst” to newcomers.

  • Etc…

The above example is just my idea on how our envisioned future could practically pan out. I’m sure that if you ask one of my co-creators, they would have different ideas. But I thought adding this would help to make it a bit more concrete.

Since June we did two pilot events, which were meant to determine interest in this idea and for us to learn more about hosting these kind of events. These events were very helpful for us and we got a lot of enthusiastic feedback. However it has proven more difficult than we thought to get a bit of “momentum”. So on to the questions:

  • We have noticed that a lot of people cancel at the last moment for our events. Because we cannot be sure what the outcome of an event will be, the invitations have perhaps remained too vague. We think this is what causes people to cancel at the last moment: something urgent and clear always trumps a vague invitation with an unclear end. What can we do to make people commit to one of our events?

  • One of our ongoing questions is who to invite. Up till now we have chosen for quality over quantity. But we feel that we need more people to get a successful event, so perhaps we need to change this. What are your thoughts about who or how many people to invite?

  • How to “manage” the energy of a group. During our last event we had a very interesting World Café. Next we wanted to move on to an Open Space to try and collectively design the next event. But we noticed that the energy levels of all our participants had dropped very low, so we decided to move on to the wrap-up instead. What are ways to manage the energy of the group so that the day-programme can be completed?

  • We don’t know how to deal with a continuously changing group. Our events will always be with a mix of people: some will already have been to one or more or our events before, while for some it will be the first time. How can we quickly get newcomers to one of the events at the same level as recurring participants?

Any replies are welcome, whether they are answers to our questions, suggestions, new questions, encouragement or feedback.

With kind regard,

Also on behalf of,

Marte, Eduard, Max and Maayke,

Jelmer de Ronde


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Replies to This Conversation

Dear Jelmer, Marte, Eduard, Max and Maayke,

These are beautiful and very pertinent question to a great call and project!

Sorry for answering only now, but I wanted to take the time it deserves.

You and your friends have a call and a great initiative! I sense a lot of resonance with what we have been hosting in the Bregenzer Salon since a few years, bringing people together who want to make a positive change to the world!

I pick up the questions and remarks you have:

You want to catalyse energies and change the world into a better one, this is great.

1. It seems you have some clear intentions, and they are not necessarily bound to content, which is great! The world needs more places that can hold and midwife projects and content/material people bring with them, or that gets born right there in co-creation with others. I love your bold courage to promote process and the container! What it could be that you need to work on more is defining your call, and the purpose of your call. With the work we do, basically sending out some vibrations that can be recognized by others as an intention, and an invitation, that certain things might happen at the place and event you are inviting to, that it holds potentials, and that that the largest potential people are bringing, might be supported and be helped into existence.

The shaping of the invitation is crucial, and behind that is your intentions as a group, the shared purpose.

Maybe what is needed is to name that better, also in your invitaiton. Make clear, that people can bring their ideas, and that they will be helped along/transform into something larger or fine-tuned; mention that networking is happening, that it is a kind of a platform. Wathever the wording works for the people in your context and for you. About numbers? Once you are clear on your intention and have it manifest in your invitation, do not worry about numbers. In my experience always the right people show up in alignment with the invitation sent out.

2.Don’t be shy creating some invitation to commitment. You offer a place, you offer your time and energy to hold a container, you offer the invitation process. You might do all of this, because it is your call, and you love to do this, and to learn from it and with it. Yet, it is also valuable what you do. If you can name a price for it, and create a ever so low level for entering, but a recognizable commitment, people will also VALUE what you offer, because you value what you offer. Maybe you want add a price tag to it, or some donations, I do not know. Important is, that you value yourself what you offer, and that you ask some commitment. There will always be last minute cancellations or last minute show-ups, that is life, and in general fine. However if you offer a registration e-mail, that people will get more intentional about it. Have a look if you were intentional enough about it in your invitation. The experience I have with invitations in the Bregenzer Salon and other places we hold the Open Salon evenings is, that people sometimes call or mail the day before or the same day, asking bit humbly ”is there still space, can I still come?” This shows, that people value what we offer. Yet, the west of Austria and the Netherlands might have different cultural understandings around this, but in general the way you invite will determine the way what you attract. Maybe send your draft-invitation to a friend, and let them give you feedback how they understand it, and if they would want to come, what expectations it creates, and how clear it is. That helps to understand possible blind spots in the core group, which we all have. 

3. “But we also see that it is difficult to actually get started on an idea or to actually know what idea to work on.” That to me is the question on format to know how to get started and on what:

Much is possible. The magic and simple formula we have used in Brussels at the Pro action Café place that started years ago with, I believe a quite similar intention than yours, and the formula we use rather successfully in the Open Salon evenings is:

- Welcome and framing, explain the way to be together

- A short explanation (5min or so) of the four levels of listening according to Otto Scharmer, that creates wonders, and sets a nice foundation for good, receptive dialogue. If you do it in not a “teaching” attitude but rather an invitation on how to spend this evening together, it is much appreciated.

- Check-in circle to hear who is in the room, and creates a wonderful foundation for trust and bonding, this can be rather swift and needs to be held well to not take too long.

- Pro action Café: this is the format I can recommend most, as it allows for the weaving between the participants, continues with the community building in case you are after that, and just unfolds the potential of a group for peer-coaching, that seems to be present in your case. An alternative is the peer-coaching café, in case the topics are more complex and also more concrete. (Pro-action cafe invites in the personal calls people have, which are the life energy for your whole event! A great way to start.) 

- Offer enough breaks between the rounds with some snacks and drinks, that keeps the energy on a high note, that you write was a bit of an issue.

- Convergence: this can be a pain if not held well, you will lose people, if the topic owners go on in detail what conversation they had..a killer. I try to only ask for the essence of their learning, or the next step they will do. If others want to complete, if there is time, they can do so, but very brief. This slot needs good hosting and some “warriorship”. If brief and well done, participants will be even more energized by this round, as they learn what everyone else has learned in just one sentence or two. One can immediately proceed to the check-out round, which an almost seamless flow from one into the other.

- Check-out round: Once the process is done, ask people intentionally what they are leaving with. That can inform you with all you need to know. What people gained, are grateful for, what else they would maybe wished for next time. In our case they leave with lots of energy, usually more than they came in after a busy work day, and are just amazed, that people can get into dialogue so fast, without having known each other at all or not that well. Take a hidden harvest of what is said, it can inform your core group for the continuation.

- Aprés-event: Those who want to stay on can stay for some more drinks and/or conversations, we usually have to throw them out some time after midnight, as the energy is so high and people could go on for ever!

Well, this is the magic/simple formula we have been using for many years now, with new people coming in, and settling in as if they had been in the group for always. It is the DNA that counts, the feeling- welcome and non-judgmental energy, and that in every new meeting everyone can join in.

If you have topics continuing from earlier times, well they can be continued of course, or some subgroups might emergence around the energy of a project created in collaboration.

You might also see, that once in a while you want to change format, and Open Space is better, as you want to stay longer in a conversation than 30-40 minutes for a pro-action café round. It all depends. We found, that after a while, collective story harvest is a good thing to do once in a while, to take note of all the good projects that got realized, and learn together from the successes or what has not worked so well. You will know if you move on, what feels best for your purpose each time in the preparation. However with the circle for check-in and check-out you always have the foundation.

I hope this makes some sense to you.

Warm greetings,


Good Morning,

I love what you are doing and am moved to continue to develop my own ideas where I am in Germany. Thank you.

In reading your questions and looking at Ursula's ideas, I find myself with the following questions (as I feel into what you have written.) I am still very much a learner in AoH, so I am also responding through other facilitation experiences.

Cancellations. This feels like an energy issue or one of worry about people coming. Is it possible or interesting to start holding the space for the group in a light, energized way before the actual group comes together, making it inviting and interesting...attractive.

Is the low energy more about being tired, disappointed or introspective or something else? Maybe it is not necessarily a bad thing. The question might be "How is this held" in that moment. Are people asked to name it? Are the hosts low on energy or disappointed? Introspection can be the moment of transition and growth, and therefore may be very interesting and important.It can become a very special moment to think, feel and reflect.

If it is more about tiredness, I wonder about the speed or intensity in the group. Or the general tiredness of the people attending. Does one speak to such? Uncertain. Is it possible to start the event with three or four minutes of silence - arriving. Or arriving in some other non-cognitive form?

Another question: Is low energy coming from a response to external definition, meaning that I detach from what is significant to me so as to best participate in the process?

Changes in the group: Is it possible to speak to this? Some have been here before and others are new. (Maybe a show of hands in the beginning to see who has attended previously. Maybe a suggestion to talk to these people in the break.) Because coming together is about sharing my own experiences, ideas and progresses or questions, the content will be new each time. The people, who have been there before, will have many days of new experiences that they themselves have made since the last gathering. Can they be encouraged to talk about even the small things that have changed (similar to Story Harvest.)

Wishing you new discoveries!


Dear Ursula,

Thanks so much for your elaborate response. I've finally found the time to reply and give an update about how we are doing.

Since your answer we have held another two events, with a very similar set-up:

  1. We start with some light food (since we start at the time that people tend to just be done with the work of the day).
  2. Then we move on to some form of check-in, which turns out to be tricky to hold in such a way that it does not take too much time. At one of the events we had a too short check-in, and the atmosphere was definitely different that evening. In my opinion, people focussed more on having their say than on listening with attention. However, at the next event we had a longer check-in and though the effect was what we intended, it took a very long time and was a bit long-winded. So something to experiment with.
  3. Then an intro to Open Space Technology. Doing the intro well simply takes practice, something we are getting better at I believe. We chose OST because it allows also for long discussions, which we believe are more necessary in the short term. The issues we are discussing are very large and don't always immediately have to lead to action. Understanding them or making sense of these issues is the first step. During the last two events there were really great discussions going on at different tables, although people are still a bit searching for the right way to have a conversation in this format. (I don't know how else to describe it.)
  4. Then some form of harvest. The first event we had these wonderfully prepared harvest-sheets (click here for an example). But people were a bit confused as to what to fill in on the sheets. The second event we didn't have enough sheets. In both cases we found the holding of the harvest difficult. How much time to allow for interesting discussions that emerge (which can be very important because they may add understanding), how to harvest the important bits that are necessary for the issue/project to grow in future events? Right now I have the feeling that too much of what we gain in each discussion is lost between events and we have to start over each time.
  5. At the first event we completely forgot the check-out and it all ended very abruptly (we were out of time). The second event we did a check-out asking what would people take home and in my opinion this felt much better. The evening was really closed in a satisfactory way.

So far for our update. I'll also try and respond to some of your suggestions, and of course we have more questions that need answering :-).

  • Indeed, our invitation probably needs more work. We have changed it a couple of times and asked friends for feedback on it, but it still isn't perfect (and will probably never be). Your suggestions as to what it should contain are valuable and I will see if we can add those next time.
  • About creating commitment: we started using an online (Google) form for people to register. So far this seems to be working. As soon as people register, they become more committed to actually coming to the event. We also use the form to invite people to already think about what they would like to bring to the event. We will discuss the rest of your suggestions at our next meeting.
  • Right now energy levels are still a bit low at the end of an event. This could be because we are holding our events on weekdays and people have worked all day and have to go to work the next day again. We have not really felt the need for an apres-event so far. Our next day will probably be in a weekend, so we'll see if that changes things.

Right now, I feel our main question should be how to improve our harvest/check-out process:

  • How do we harvest the insights or intentions people are holding at the end of an event?
  • How can we take these to the next level and invite people to act on them between events?
  • How do we prevent rehashing discussions every time?
  • Someone also noticed that a lot of the sessions at OST tend to be interconnected. They share underlying themes or knowledge. How can we provide some format for discovering and harvesting these insights so that we can increase our understanding?

So far, we don't really know how to tackle these questions. Any knowledge or ideas are very welcome!

Thanks again and all the best!

Also on behalf of,

Marte, Eduard, Max and Maayke,


Dear Heather,

Thanks for your response! First of all, I would be interested to hear about your ideas... If you have the time please post them.

I don't fully understand what you mean with "to start holding the space for the group in a light, energized way before the actual group comes together, making it inviting and interesting...attractive." How can we hold an event before the people are actually there?

Your idea about low energy coming about because of introspection is very interesting. This is something we could perhaps ask people about next time this happens. For me it is also a reminder to pay more attention to my own expectations and how I project them onto the event and by doing this perhaps influence what people feel or think.

I'm not sure about incorporating silence into the event. I have the feeling that anything feels "floaty", if you catch my drifts, might alienate people. At least I myself might have trouble "holding" such silence well.

Anyway, thanks for your suggestions!



Jelmer, maybe as harvest and/or checkout round you could ask what they see or understand now of the 'river below the river' - that what connects different themes and topics?

one idea...


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