Let’s Talk America Hosting Manual
This 10-page manual teaches the Conversation Café method in detail. This is the simplest process we know and one that has a proven track record to be easily and reliably adopted by hosts who may have no previous experience – as well as by skilled facilitators. Let’s Talk America was a 2004 national dialogue initiative designed to spark and coordinate dialogues of various sizes across the political divide in the U.S.
This manual provides a process that honors LTA principles and enables you to take the conversation from small talk to big talk in a way that allows everyone to feel respected, safe and heard. With a little study and preparation, your conversation can create a positive and empowering experience for all. Download the manual here.
Also see the 12-page Let’s Talk America Cafe Hosting Guide, created to help people host large-group LTA dialogues.This 12-page guide blends the Conversation Café and World Café approaches. The World Café’s principles are aligned with Conversation Café, though the form is different. Instead of convening random people at a café, the World Café is an event hosted by a group that wants to think and learn together, often to aid their work. Instead of staying in one conversation for 60 to 90 minutes, at a World Café people move to different tables to stimulate new thoughts. Instead of “no committees will be formed,” the World Café conversations lead to a whole group discussion that surfaces group insights and learnings and new commitments.
Let’s Talk America (LTA) was a joint project of the Utne Institute, Conversation Cafe, World Cafe, and NCDD run in/around 2004. The project strove to bring Americans from all points on the political spectrum together in cafes, bookstores, churches and living rooms for lively, open-hearted dialogue to consider questions essential to the future of our democracy. LTA reconnected with the “town hall” meeting spirit that’s the lifeblood of our democracy, providing opportunities for everyone to talk about America’s promise, about what freedom, democracy, unity and equality mean to us — to “we the people.” Let’s Talk America is a meeting ground where we can come together to listen, speak, ask and learn — without being forced to agree, change or bite our tongues.
Here is a bare bones version of what’s in the LTA Hosting Manual…
How can I start a Let’s Talk America Conversation?
Anyone who has the curiosity and courage to find out what other people think about America – especially the current state of our democracy — can start a LTA conversation. Let’s Talk America gives you a way to invite others into a conversation about what our democracy means in our lives.
Who do you do it with?
Anyone else. You can choose how safe or adventurous you want to be. You can pick a circle of friends, a few neighbors, the person next to you in the grocery line, a church group, a work group or come to any of the open Let’s Talk America events listed on this website. You are always welcome! And if you’d like others to join, you can post your event. LTA especially encourages you to invite others who think differently than you do – others that you don’t usually get to talk to about the questions that matter to you.
How many people come?
You can have a Let’s Talk America conversation with one other person, with ten …or, if more, we can help you do that.
What do you talk about?
The best response to a question isn’t an answer, it’s a conversation. Try these conversation starters:
- What is is the American dream to you?
- Tell about a time when you felt “This is what democracy looks like!”
- What does “We the People” mean in your life?
- What does freedom mean to you?
How do you have a Let’s Talk America conversation?
Gather these ingredients:
- A Host who introduces the simple agreements and process, and keeps time.
- A Set of agreements (you can keep the agreements whether or not you ask your conversation partners to)
- Other people – Friends, neighbors, co-workers, members of community groups, strangers. The idea is that both people who share your views – and people who don’t – are part of “we the people.”
- A structure -. At minimum, you need:
- A set beginning and ending time.
- A chance – at the start and at the end – for each person in the group to speak in turn. No interruptions. No feedback. Not speaking is okay, too. Pick some object — a stone, a salt shaker, anything. Tell participants that whoever holds the object has the floor..
- And talk!
How do I take the conversation from good to great?
We’ve all been in conversations that have gotten stuck, confused, boring or even a bit scary. Here are some ideas to help you stay at ease, curious and inviting, and keep the conversation interesting:
- (if your curiosity is piqued) Tell me more about…
- (if your instinct is to counter another’s statement) This is what I heard you say… is it what you meant?
- (if you are with someone who begins advocating for a fixed position) What led you to this point of view?
- (if you are with someone who begins campaigning for a candidate) What is most important you in a leader?
- (if you are with someone who always agrees with you) What if the opposite were true?
Once we’ve talked, then what?
- Ask, “Who wasn’t here? What new points of view would we like to invite to our next Let’s Talk America conversation?” Invite a few people not like you. Keep expanding.
- If you invite more than a living-room full, there are suggestions for large scale conversations.
- If you want to host a gathering with some new people, post your time and place so that neighbors can find you.
- Engage in the year-long learning process about what’s on the minds of “We The People”. Tell us how your conversation went by filling out a simple questionnaire. Look through the feedback from other conversations across the nation and/or find out about gatherings in your neighborhood.
- Get involved as a citizen! Tell us about any actions inspired by your participation in LTA
This manual is freely downloadable from the NCDD website.