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Spotlight on Process

When you work at process, it works. This spotlight shines on tested approaches and specific ideas to support your work with groups, teams, and organizations.

Invitations and Announcements that Really Work — the PIE Recipe

By Dorothy Strachan and Marian Pitters

The process starts when the anticipation starts—with the first contact that potential participants have with those organizing a session. This communication may be through a letter, an announcement, an advertisement in a newspaper or a phone call from a friend or colleague.

Invitations and announcements appear in a broad range of formats, lengths and approaches: they may be a formal letter of several paragraphs, a simple brochure, or a brief, well designed email piece that looks like a party invitation. Regardless of the purpose or type of session you are managing, the time spent crafting a letter or announcement can have major returns in how people participate.

There are three key elements in invitations and announcements: persuasion, information and engagement—the PIE recipe. Persuasion is most important for processes where potential participants may not see the benefit of a session and so need to be encouraged to take part. Information is required in support of all processes, and most importantly when participants may not know what to expect. Engagement is most important in invitations where you want to involve participants early on in the purpose and content of a session.

Persuade

When thinking about how much emphasis to put on encouraging people to sign up for a session, consider:

  • Will potential participants require persuasion to sign up, for example, through special incentives or an appeal to the benefits of experiential learning or professional education?
  • Will the Executive Director of an organization require persuasion to send a number of representatives to a workshop during a particularly busy time of year?
  • Will potentially cynical participants benefit from a constructive and positive approach to a mandatory Issues Analysis process?

Inform

When thinking about the information part of PIE, ask yourself what someone needs to know to make a decision about whether or not to attend a workshop or to have a positive attitude about a session. Do they need to know about:

  • The session coordinates in order to make arrangements, e.g., date, location, time, how to register?
  • The session purpose, objectives, and who is being invited?
  • Financial considerations such as registration fees, travel and accommodation expenses, parking charges, and who is paying for what?

Engage

Many processes—particularly those that are invitational, restricted, or mandatory—benefit from involving participants in the purpose and content of a session in the letter of invitation. To do this, consider these questions:

  • What could they do to prepare for the session, for example, read background information, consult with colleagues?
  • What would engage participants in the subject areas to be discussed, for example, reviewing relevant statistics; drawing relationships between their personal and professional lives and the session topic; pointing to local, regional, national and global implications related to the purpose?
  • How could participants explore broader issues related to the session topic, for example, on a web-site, in books, in recent articles and papers, on upcoming radio and television programs?

Engagement is about enabling participants to develop a stake in the success of the event. Develop your letter or announcement in collaboration with a member of the workshop planning group so that it is in tune with the potential investments that participants could make in the process.

Hook your respondent in the first few sentences, as the Vice-President of Sales in a multi-national technology company did for a mandatory session with account managers: “I need your help. It’s national account planning time and the information we need to meet our goals for next year is all in your heads. It’s time for us to share some of that data with each other so that we can cook up a strategy that plugs us into another A1 Club year. Next year’s A1 Club event is 10 days in Singapore—all expenses paid. Let’s work it so that we can be there together.”

And now it’s your turn. Think about a session you have coming up or one you have designed and facilitated in the past. What’s your PIE recipe?
_________% Persuade
_________% Inform
_________% Engage

This Spotlight on Process is an adapted excerpt from our new book, Managing Facilitated Processes, available in April 2009.

Check back regularly for updates to Spotlight on Process

For a more comprehensive discussion of the PIE, extensive tips and examples and a checklist for writing invitations and announcements, order our new book, coming out early in 2009:

Managing Facilitated Processes: A Guide for Facilitators, Managers, Consultants, Event Planners, Trainers and Educators. Jossey-Bass/Wiley Publishers (2009)
By Dorothy Strachan and Marian Pitters