3 Lessons From The Wagah Border

flag-ceremony-at-wagah-border
It had been close to three months since I went for a long ride, so I spoke to a few friends of mine and planned a ride to one of my all time favorite destinations, Amritsar. I am in love with both the journey and the destination itself. We reached Amritsar early and decided to ride to the Wagah border. The Wagah border is a transit terminal and a railway station between Pakistan and India. It is very popular for the flag ceremony that happens between the two countries every day two hours before sunset. It was my first time and the atmosphere was electrifying! The ceremony is a once in a lifetime experience everyone should have. There were thousands of people on both sides dancing, singing patriotic songs, and excitedly looking forward to the ceremony.

In the middle of all this, I noticed a person wearing all white, holding a mic and moving around. I asked my friend about him and he shared that the man is the facilitator who conducts the ceremony. I really liked his presence and watched him very closely.

Below are a few behaviours that enabled him to do an amazing job:

  1. Build a Connection
    The facilitator was in front of the crowd at least 20 minutes before the ceremony started and verbally, he did nothing. However, he was sensing and observing the crowd’s energy. He had a smile on his face and was maintaining eye contact with almost everyone. Gradually, he silently became part of the audience. He was continuously smiling, clapping along, and really made his presence felt. I admired the way he entered the crowd’s space without making it awkward for anyone. Being in the experiential learning field for more than two years now, I have seen different facilitators struggle to make an initial connection with a crowd. Hence they find it difficult to have that buy-in from everyone. So to get that connection, spend some time on stage, but don’t feed the need to always be vocal. Just be very confortable in your skin, have eye contact with the audience, keep smiling, and when they feel comfortable enough with you, then they are all yours.
  2. Be Animated
    Be it a group of 10 people or 1,000 people you need to have mastery of your body language. The real challenge comes when you are facing a big crowd. If I talk about the Wagah facilitator in specific, he was facing at least 3,000 people and was able to get everyone’s attention. He realized that engaging such a big crowd and keeping them interested is not that easy.
    Here are some things he did to keep the energy going:

    1. He had a competition between different sections of the crowd.
    2. When doing his competition, he kept it surprising for people – don’t put a pattern to it and make it easy for the audience to anticipate.
    3. His body language was strong and he used gestures while being expressive and just having fun.
  3. Never Lose Control
    Once a facilitator becomes a part of the crowd, one of the biggest mistakes he is likely to make is to lose control over the crowd. Taking the Wagah border facilitator example, he himself was dancing and shouting patriotic slogans with the crowd. But whenever he sensed that people were not listening to him and getting carried away, he would strike a pose and redirect them. In between all that fun he would remind people about their safety and their language very politely, yet assertively. This can only be done when you don’t forget your role. I have seen a lot of facilitators get carried away because of the crowd’s response and unknowingly miss important details like safety, time management, and more.
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My experience was enriching, as you can tell from the observations above. But don’t just take it from me; go and experience the uniqueness of the Wagah Border for yourself!

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