Presbyterian Intercultural Network

Conversation starters

Holding a workshop or event that deals with sensitive subjects is not an easy task. Somehow
the participants need to become comfortable enough with one another to have meaningful conversations. And somehow those difficult subjects must be introduced in a manner that doesn't frighten people away or cause them to set up walls of defense and self-protection.

We keep looking for good ways to accomplish all that. Over the years, we've found a few that have been so successful, we've used them repeatedly. Here are some of our favorites.


A conocimientos is a tool that's as good for building relationships as it is for initial introductions. Sure, you can ask people their name, where they’re from and why they came to an event, but that only tells things about them. It doesn’t really say who they are, doesn’t really help them get to know each other. So why stop there? A conocimientos goes beyond standard polite topics to subjects that are easy to share, yet more personal; non-threatening, yet provide a better, more wholistic view of a person. Open the file to learn more

Mutual Invitation and Talking Sticks

Mutual invitation is a technique for talking in groups that works equally well for introductions and for discussion (especially for talking about difficult or hot topics). In it, one person speaks without others commenting or interrupting, after which they invite another member of the group to do the same. The process continues until everyone has had an opportunity to speak (if they choose to pass, later they should be invited again). The process, developed by Eric Law, gives each participant an equal voice, ensures that one voice won't dominate the conversations, provides a way into the conversation for those who wouldn't force the issue.

Talking sticks can be paired with mutual invitation, but the rules for their use can also be more flexible. They come in handy any time it's important that only one person speak at a time. The concept is simple: a person can only speak when they are holding a "talking stick" (or any item that can be passed around, and they only get the stick when someone else gives it to them.


You could think of "Knees" as "Speed Sharing." It's hard to describe in a few words, but here goes: 2 rows of people sit knee to knee. One row talks on a given question or topic for 3 minutes
as the other row listens. They switch roles for the next question or topic.

There's more to it so read the file. The most important thing to know about it is that it's fast, and it's fun, and it's always surprising how much we learn about each other.

Level the Playing Field

It's difficult to "see" privilege. It's mostly invisible, especially to the ones who enjoy it the most. 
But "Level the Playing Field" uses a simple technique that brings what is usually hidden into the light. As it begins, all the participants are standing in one line, holding hands. But they move as questions are asked that speak of various life experiences: a step forward for "yes," a step back for "no." The differences in what individuals in the group have experienced quickly become obvious, and it's not difficult to see why. This link provided above leads to a page with more detail, including a list of questions that can be used as is or modified to fit a particular context.