PINs workshop: The Power of Facilitated Networking

January 25, 2014 – YMCA Central Toronto

“Fantastic session – practical, engaging and very professional” – Participant

Networking is essential for professional immigrant associations: it’s how members get to know each other and how they connect with potential employers, mentors partners and build their networks. For effective networking to happen, however, we have to do more than put people in a room together. Conveniently, there are tools and processes that help ensure that meetings and gatherings are both well-attended and productive for networking and learning.

On January 25, 2014 at the Central Toronto YMCA, the PINs team welcomed Tammy Neilson of Creating Realities, who spoke to the group about how organizers can make the most of their networking events.

Guest speaker:

Tammy Neilson – Creating Realities


Through the snow and freezing temperatures, 15 PINs leaders and partners came together to learn about facilitated networking from Tammy Neilson. How we engage with our members effects not only our relationships with them, but also our current activities, our future direction, and the vitality of our whole organization. Facilitated networking explores the role of facilitators and conveners in building those relationships during meetings and events.

Good facilitation, she explained, requires that organizers adhere to three principles: 1) the facilitator is there to be a guide of the conversation, not to be an expert in the subjects discussed; 2) the facilitator must focus on how participants are engaging in the meeting, not just on what the meeting is producing; 3) the facilitator remains neutral throughout the event.

Tammy was careful to distinguish between facilitating and convening. Facilitating is the impartial guiding of conversation: ensuring that the agenda is followed and the goal is met, that all participants’ voices are heard, and that decisions are democratic. Convening, on the other hand, is more about bringing people together to engage in a transformative way. It strengthens participant relationships, accountability and commitment. PINs leaders may find themselves more often in a convener than facilitator role.

Good convening begins with thorough planning, and Tammy provided nine considerations to take into account during the event planning stage, such as why you are asking your members to come together, and what space you need to ensure the event purpose is met. She also shared a list of principles to follow when running the event itself, such as setting context for the meeting and sharing collective discoveries. Additionally she highlighted a list of powerful questions that will engage your participants, prompt thoughtful contributions and promote stimulating conversation.

Tammy put her tools into practice with the workshop participants: we kicked off the session by meeting our tablemates and sharing our expectations for the day, we discussed questions over a mini-World Café, and we learned about each other through different Action Mapping exercises. Before the workshop conclude, one association was drawn at random and chosen to describe one of their upcoming meetings or gatherings. As a group, we went through the convening tools that Tammy had provided to demonstrate how they might apply to ensure that the event would achieve its intended goals.

Thank you to our participants and our presenter, Tammy Neilson.


  • Don’t be afraid to take risks, and don’t worry about making mistakes! Take note of them and learn from them at your next event.
  • Want people to attend you event? Get them to know each other. Those relationships will make them accountable, and your attendance numbers will go up.
  • Ask better questions! If you have to push to get members at your meetings, you’re doing something wrong. Reconsider who your audience is and how they like to spend their time. Ask your participants what would stop them from attending your events? Take these things into consideration when planning the venue, style and format of your event.