Before I give away all my best creative facilitation techniques, here are 3 simple tips I always keep in mind when engaging with people through arts and culture:

  1. Don’t just plan activities to fill up the ‘during’ time. Consider how you can warmly welcome people before they even step into the space, and how you might generously continue the engagement after the session or project comes to its almost inevitable end. As a simple example, before a workshop you could invite participants to share the title of a single song each to add to a co-curated playlist which hums in the background the first time people arrive in the space.

  2. Have a clear idea about why you’re connecting in the first place and define what the specific aims of each of your activities are. For example, are you hoping to energise the participants? Maybe you need to build in ways to develop teamwork with a group connecting for the first time. Or perhaps you need an activity which will seamlessly lead your workshop into a space for focus and concentration? Plan accordingly. You might have a need to make people feel welcomed and comfortable, so you decide to play people's favourite songs to drift through the speakers on arrival.

  3. Utilise activities which speak to all the senses, if possible (and appropriate), by playing with kinaesthetic approaches. These will often cater to different learning styles, remove the reliance on one sense (or language) and will likely keep it interesting and memorable for everyone. Again, think back to the co-curated playlist example.

River of Life

Back in 2018, I worked alongside Scarlett Crawford, a brilliant socially engaged artist, as part of the First Waves project led by the Houses of Parliament. We invited community members into a gallery space together for the first time as we prepared to begin a project that interrogated layers of personal and systemic racism through the Race Relations Acts. We used this River of Life activity to connect the group in lived experiences, setting the tone and beginning the work of designating the shared safe as ‘space’.


Using a long-length piece of paper to represent a river, invite participants to discuss and add ‘bedrocks’, ‘boulders or ‘gradients’ and ‘winding corners’. The river can be printed or drawn by facilitators before the session or created collectively by participants during the session.

  • Bedrocks – rubble that may slow the flow of water down a little.
  • Boulders – large hazards which can change the course of the water flow.
  • Gradients – help the water to flow quicker and may move bed rocks and even boulders downstream.
  • Winding corners - change the flow and speed of a river, often depositing materials and eroding the banks.

Mapping Community Connections

More recently I’ve brought this tried and tested engagement activity out of the bag during a session I facilitated at a contemporary gallery with stakeholders and adult professionals from diverse sectors within the local community with varying levels of previous connection with the venue. It was important to begin at a place of comfort for them, connect through commonality and provide network opportunities.


Facilitate the start of a conversation where people are encouraged to find the connections which already exist between them through discussion for example:

  • Where are they geographically?
  • What themes do they cross over?
  • Are there any values that they share?
  • Where does their interest in art forms converge?

Ask people to reflect on these connections as a visual spidergram.

5-Word Life Story

I inject the 5-word life story activity (a tailoring of an activity from the book The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker) wherever I can in work situations including meetings, events and workshops. It’s a great way of knowing more about the people in the room and lays the parameters for not going too deep to a place where people may get uncomfortable; it acts as a way to share the story of our lives in just 5 simple words.


Ask individuals to privately and independently choose 5 words to sum up their life to date. It’s helpful if those words are verbs/doing words for example 'Run, Paint, Escape, Care and Read’. These words can be shared amongst a group.

Participants do not explain and expand on their words and others cannot ask questions about the chosen words. It’s also important to remind participants that some life experiences are too raw, sensitive or triggering to share, even in a single word, but if people choose to express experiences through words, they should choose words that feel ‘healed’ like scars rather than open wounds.

If you have an idea for a project or event you’d like to collaborate on or want to have a chat with our team to understand more about how The Audience Agency can work with you, contact us at: