SEVEN THINGS I’VE LEARNED ABOUT LEADING DISCUSSIONS
Discussions are quite effective for learning and integration with one’s personal life. But, effectively leading a discussion is far from easy. From my high school days, I have struggled with leading discussions. Teaching, and preaching are comparatively easier since they are mostly one-way approaches, but discussions provide a whole new set of challenges. Through the years, I have experimented with several methods of groups and styles. Here are some things I’ve learned.
1. Find proper seating – not prominent, but visible
When leading a discussion, you are the “leader,” but you don’t want to seem like the one with all the answers. Mostly, your role is to be a facilitator of the discussion. So, find a seat that is visible to everyone in the group, but it should not be where you seem to be in the prominent place. Each person in the group is valuable and their input is encouraged. Your seating should be strategically placed to allow such an interaction.
2. Ask open-ended questions
Questions are the fuel that propel a lively and fruitful discussion. Avoid closed-ended questions that can be answered with just one word. Use open-ended questions that require more thought and detailed answers. For example, you could ask the closed-ended question “Do you find this passage Helpful?” The obvious answer would be either yes or no. But if you can ask an open-ended question such as: “Tell us how this passage has been of help to you,” the answer requires a more thoughtful response and can move the discussion forward.
3. Draw in the silent ones
Some desire the limelight while many prefer to hide behind the shadow of others. These silent ones may seem insignificant, but can provide great insight for the discussion. Their involvement will also improve their learning and receptivity. The easiest way to draw them into the discussion is to ask a follow up question. For example, after someone answers a question, you can ask one of the silent ones “Would you like to add to that?” Or, “What do you think about this?” This allows them to tag along with the answer already given by someone.
4. Re-direct the discussion from talkative ones
The lively members of the group are certainly necessary, but they need to be directed carefully. Without hurting their feelings, learn to re-direct the conversation toward others. Use approaches like this one: “Thank you for your insight. Now Lisa, what do you say about this?” Or you can ask: “Lisa, what would you like to add to this?”
5. Ask follow-up questions to clarify, evaluate, and to provoke
During the discussion, ask questions to clarify what you have heard them say. You can say things like “So you mean to say…- is that right?” Some questions can evaluate the matter of discussion with questions like: “What other ways can we understand this issue?” Often, people need to be provoked to get them to think creatively: “If you were to disagree with this view, how would you handle this situation?” In this way, you can clarify the opinions of the people, evaluate the issues even further, and provoke the people to think more deeply and differently.
6. Strive for discussion among the members
Getting the discussion started with open-ended questions is only the first step. But the most fruitful discussion happens when the members begin to discuss among themselves. Sometimes, the discussion may only occur with the leader. It may become a question and answer session with just the leader. The discussion moves forward to a higher level when the group members begin to respond to each other.
7. Move the discussion toward application before concluding
Discussion of the topic alone can become a discussion for the sake of discussion. The ultimate aim is to lead the people to a changed thinking, changed hearts, and changed lives. Keep your eyes on the clock and at an appropriate time, move towards application. Ask directed questions like: “How can we make this useful for us this week?” Or you can ask: “Think of three ways you will accomplish this during the week.”
Leading a discussion appropriately can be a rewarding experience for the entire group. The more you lead discussions the better you will become. Just keep your focus on improving yourself as a leader (of discussions).
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