Last weekend was the FRC (FIRST Robotics Challenge) kickoff where they announce the game for the season. Our team uses the time after kickoff on Saturday to discuss the rules and strategies in small groups followed up by one large group. (we have a lot of people; this is a very large group). And we use the day after kickoff to brainstorm in a large group all day to come up with a priority list and things to prototype. In past years, we’ve done this an atrium. Some years sitting on the floor and some dragging high school chairs/desks out.
And every year without fail, we have the problem of “sidebar” discussions. This has two impacts. One is that it becomes hard to hear the “main” thread of conversation. The other is that the conversation tends to split off and people don’t hear what others are saying so we can’t move forward as a group.
We try to enforce having to raise your hand and get called on before speaking. But people get excited and… well, lots of people talking.
This year, we used the cafeteria instead of the atrium. Saturday went as expected. When we got to the large group, there were numerous sidebars and it was hard to hear. It’s a long day and some of the kids were getting restless. Which meant more sidebars. Sunday started worse. We used a different part of the cafeteria and the vent was interfering. Forget sidebars, it was hard to hear the person speaking to the group from the other side of the group even when it was the teacher (who projects well) and nobody else was speaking.
We solved this problem by using two microphones.Then we could hear! The mic had a second advantage. Everyone had to raise their hand or we couldn’t hear them. Which meant we didn’t have a big problem with sidebars. There might have been some, but you couldn’t hear them so no problem there.
The mic was like a talking stick. You needed it to speak and it went great. One of the mentors started talking while holding the mic but not into it. (I couldn’t hear him.) I commented “you need to speak into the mic; it’s not a talking stick.”
I was wrong. It was a mic AND a talking stick.