At Harvard College Effective Altruism we ran a series of weekly dinners with our members. We quickly found out that people tended to cluster into a single conversation group. With fifteen or twenty attendees, that group got pretty unwieldy. In fact, the conversation actually dragged, probably because people were worried about talking in front of so many other that they didn’t know well. The result was that almost nobody got to talk and the discussions weren’t interesting.
Smaller groups make conversations more interesting. And they especially make the environment more friendly for people who are quiet, or less familiar with the ideas of effective altruism. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to encourage them:
If you’re at an EA event, join a smaller group! Suppress your natural urge to cluster with the people you know best or the people you think are the coolest.
If it looks like your group is getting too large, break away and find another one.
If you’re enough of a ninja, you can induce conversation-group mitosis by starting a sub-topic with the person next to you in a lower voice, and simultaneously using body language to separate that from the main conversation. (This is hard.)
If all else fails, you can explicitly suggest splitting up a group. It’s usually less awkward than you’d think.