An open and accepting atmosphere
A group working together toward common goals…and sharing as they grow.
PREPARING FOR THE DISCUSSIONGROUP
Understand the topic. Decide what areas should be considered and what should be
left out. Plan an outline that covers the topics you want to discuss. Develop quality
questions to guide the discussion.
Arrive at the meeting roomwell ahead of the group. Arrange the chairs in a circle
or such that every person will feel part of the discussion. Check lighting and venti-
Welcome people as they arrive
STARTING THE DISCUSSION
Start on time.
Announce the length of the session and briefly indicate how the time will be used.
Do not wait for stragglers.
Emphasize that this is a group in which everyone takes part, every view is ex-
pressed, and every opinion is respected. Each contribution is valuable. We learn
See that every member knows every other member. At first meetings, it is good to
have each person introduce him or herself. Learn the names of each person as
soon as possible.
Choose a recorder to keep notes of what is said, learned, and shared. Butcher
paper on the wall with marking pens can provide a public memory of the discus-
DURING THE DISUCSSION
Avoid the temptation to be the teacher or the expert. Ask questions, but draw an-
swers out of the participants. Encourage others to express their opinions instead of
expressing your own. Never say, “At my school, we…” Be impartial—try to keep
anyone frommonopolizing or dominating (including yourself) and try to avoid showing
disapproval of an idea. Encourage the expression of all ideas. Remain a member of
the group, not the center but a facilitator, a chauffeur. Encourage members to talk with
one another, not always to you.
Occasionally summarize what has been said. Be careful to invite the group’s agree-
ment on the summary, then redirect the group to the next topic of the discussion with
a question. Don’t rush the process. Clarify obscure contributions by tactfully asking for
a restatement or restating the comment yourself and asking if your interpretation is
accurate. Do I hear you say…?”
Encourage general participation by using such questions as, “How do the rest of you
feel about this?” Are there any other reactions to this idea?” “Does everyone feel that
way?” If people begin to argue, thank them for their views and suggest tactfully that
perhaps others would like to talk on this point. You may have to be firm and even in-
terrupt the argument. Know that egos and emotions will surface.
Support anyone who seems to be embarrassed because their contribution meets with
disapproval. Use a tactful comment such as “I can understand that point of view.” It is
important to look at every opinion. Encourage quiet people to enter the discussion by
looking at themwhen you throw out a question to the group, inviting their reactions to
someone else’s comment. Avoid asking for facts or information they may not have be-
cause this may deter them from participating further.
Don’t allow the discussion to meander. Move the group forward with a quick sum-
mary and transition question to a new topic. When people seem to be on the tangent,
give them a little time, then ask the participants if they feel they’re still “on the sub-
ject.” Or, restate the question to get everyone focused and back on track.
Listen carefully to each contribution, absorbing the person’s meaning, not just listening
to the words. Some of the best questions you’ll ask will come from careful listening
and probing to get details or specific information. If conflicts occur, suggest that the
conflict of ideas is desirable in good discussions but conflict of personalities is not.
Guide people to consider the idea, not the person who contributed it.
Finish on time. Summarize what has been said as simply as possible and ask for the
group’s agreement on your summary. Give the group a feeling of accomplishment by
suggesting that although there wasn’t time for in-depth discussion or that no final an-
swers were developed, the discussion yielded a quality exchange of ideas.
During the discussion you might notice that some people seem frustrated about their
inability to find solutions to specific problems. Ask these people to share their prob-
lems with a member of the steering committee or offer to share them yourself. Be
aware of the tone of your group. If for some reason the group does not seem to gel,
bring it up with other discussion leaders. Maybe a reshuffling of groupings is in order.
The first step in planning a meeting is whether or not one is required.”
Marion E. Haynes, author, meetings expert
Although meetings take many forms and serve many purposes, each should be
planned carefully to ensure the goals of the meeting are realized. When planning the
meeting, keep these things in mind:
Every meeting must have a purpose that is acceptable to its participants. If
there is no real purpose, there shouldn’t be a meeting! Sometimes the purpose is
clearly stated; sometimes it’s taken for granted. Do you want people to experience
something? Learn something? Make decisions? Plan something? Structure your meet-
ing to accomplish its purpose?
Consider who will present at the meeting. Are they familiar with the busi-
ness at hand? Howmotivated will they be to participate? Answering these questions
will help determine the format and the agenda of the meeting.
The meeting location should promote participation and productivity. Choose
your meeting location based on the following seven Ss of site selection:
Size—Howmany can be seated?Will the area accommodate every person ex-
pected to attend the meeting?
Sound—Can everyone hear easily? Is a PA system needed?
Sight—Can everyone see the speakers and facilitators?When materials are dis-
played for view, can everyone see them?