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5 Questions You Need to Ask Yourself Before Leading a Discussion Group

Discussion groups can be super helpful, but only if you moderate them in the right way.

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Discussion groups can be one of the most effective and engaging types of business meetings. The key is moderating the discussion well, which requires strategically assembling the participants, preparing them for the conversation and leading the discussion effectively.

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What is the ideal number of participants in a discussion group?

While there is no hard and fast tenet, four to eight participants is a good rule of thumb. Too few people in the discussion can result in a lack of ideas or thought diversity. Too many may leave you with more thoughts and voices than can effectively complement one another. Some ideas will get left unsaid for the inability to get a word in, and you create an environment where the loudest voice wins.

Plus, with every additional participant added over eight, you increase the likelihood of multiple or side conversations starting, which can be difficult to control.

How do you keep everyone engaged?

In the best discussion groups, everyone actively participates and adds to the conversation. Invariably, some group members are going to be more comfortable sharing than others. Keep in mind that sometimes, the best insights are provided by the reserved team member who needs a little coaxing to express opinions.

Ask each participant to prepare three to four ideas in advance. Or, start the meeting by allowing everyone a few moments to collect their thoughts before diving into the discussion. This will force everyone to come up with some stretch ideas, encouraging deeper thought and preparation. Secondly, as the leader, it's important that you solicit answers from time to time from the more reserved among the group.

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As the moderator, how much talking should you do?

Of course, the purpose of a discussion group is to get thoughts and participation from a variety of people to generate more ideas than just one individual could bring to the table -- it's why you pick a discussion group and not a lecture. Therefore, the moderator's role should be as a facilitator of good conversation. Resist the urge to dominate the conversation.

What is the primary role of the moderator?

Most conversations left to their own devices will drift away from the main topic. The effective discussion leader will keep the group on track and tangent free.

In addition, a great moderator also will make sure that impactful points don't slip through the cracks; they ensure that they are expanded upon or highlighted. Challenging for deeper thought when needed and asking insightful questions also are key to orchestrating a good round table discussion.

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How do you prepare?

Don't try to wing it. A good moderator should always have a healthy list of both questions and follow-up questions they're prepared to ask. In fact, it's better to have too many questions and not get to all of them than let the conversation reach a standstill because the moderator doesn't have enough material to keep it going.

Participants should drive the discussion, but the leader should be well-versed on the subject matter. While they needn't be the foremost expert on the subject at hand, they ought to do their homework so they can intelligently quarterback the discussion.

A moderator's skill is often the difference between a great discussion group and an unhelpful one. By doing your homework in advance and allowing the participants to shine, you increase the likelihood of leading a productive and engaging discussion group.

Marty Fukuda

Written By

Chicago native Marty Fukuda is the chief operating officer of N2 Publishing, overseeing operations at its corporate headquarters in Wilmington, N.C. He first joined the company as an area director in 2008 after working in the direct sales and print industries.