Having a great conversation at your meetings is more than just having an interesting topic–it takes real leadership to facilitate discussion and make sure everyone’s voice’s are heard. Here are some pointers on leading discussion!
The Invisible Facilitator
Facilitators should not try to correct, teach, inform, and dominate in the discussion. The job of the facilitator is to invisibly direct the discussion to where it is fruitful and all participants are given the chance to speak. This takes some self-restraint (you may have something to say to correct someone…DON’T DO IT), humility (even if you know the “answer,” allow people to come to it on their own), patience (there might be some people who try to dominate, or who are long-winded; don’t cut them off immediately, they might just need a little time), discernment (on the same token, if people go on for too long, you need to discern whether it is harming the rest of the discussion, and find a positive, respectful, but abrupt and definitive way to end their commentary) and much more!
Silence Is Golden
It’s easy to be afraid of awkward silences after you have posed a question. You can surely restate the question in a different way if no one seems to connect, but also remember that silences are important in discussions. People need time to think about what was just posed, and asking them to respond immediately after you state a question is unrealistic. A silence, even up to ten seconds long, will enrich your discussion.
It’s All About the Question
Make sure when you ask a question, it is not leading. In other words don’t ask “So don’t you all think that talk/article/passage was all about…” This kind of question isn’t really a question. You want to broaden the possibilities for response. Often there is not just one right answer. Allow for different perspectives by asking something like, “What did you all think when [speaker] talked about…” or “How do you think [topic] relates to our everyday life?”
Specifically ask the quieter members what they think of the topic; and, as kindly as possible, rein in the unrelentingly verbal members who don’t let others speak. Make sure every participant has an opportunity to be heard.
Summarize as You Go
After discussing, for instance, different ways that a particular topic is applicable to our everyday life, stop and ask the group, “OK, what have we said so far?” Recap and allow time to breathe, to re-gather thoughts, and start thinking again. This is a very important role that the facilitator takes. In a sense you cannot engage in as much depth as the participants because you have to see a few steps ahead, and discern what the most fruitful avenue will be.
Tie It All Together
When the allotted time for the discussion is up (or when people are tired or ready to go), do a full summary of what you covered. “We said…We agreed that… But some of us disagreed with…and said that…” etc. etc. If you can’t remember everything, that’s OK. But it is good to re-cap most of the discussion in order to see the fruits of your labor.