Small Group Discussions That Don’t Suck: Part 2

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This is part 2 of my thoughts on leading a small group discussion.

3. “Yes, and?”, “Why?” and Letting Things Get Awkward
One semester in school I decided to take drama as an elective. Although I haven’t won an Academy Award, or played in any major or minor motion pictures, it was pretty useful. When we got to the improv section we did this activity where no one could say no, it was a “Yes, and?” activity and that has always stuck with me. In this activity you can’t say no, you have to keep the scene moving by saying yes to what the person before you said then adding to it. Makes for a more interesting show.  We know people benefit in a small group discussion setting, and they benefit the most when they are INVOLVED in the small group discussion. I never let people off with a yes or no answer it’s always “yes, and?” or a big fat WHY! One word answers are not an option. I will awkwardly wait and play the game of silent chicken and wait for the real answer. You can’t be afraid of the awkward silence, embrace it and use it. The fear of awkward silence will force them to answer, then I hit them with a “why?”. Do I get joy when I see them squirm as they wait and hope that I break the silence? Yes, but I mostly get joy listening to thoughtful responses after they see the benefits of being involved in in the discussion.

4. Know Your Material and Adapt to your Situation
Nothing is a substitute for knowing the material and knowing when to throw it out. Sometimes the material doesn’t fit the group, most of the time the discussion questions are the culprit. Knowing the questions and and knowing your group is key. The questions are the driving force of the discussion, if you are not using the right fuel then your car won’t go. So your questions have to fit. There is only one bad discussion and that’s a dieing discussion . You can direct the path of discussion with the questions, rule followers will hate this, but there are one thousand ways to the same destination. Sometimes people don’t understand the question in the way that it is being asked, so I constantly am thinking of asking the same question in as many ways as possible. The goal is interaction, if the the questions are so far from where the people are then people will not respond.

5. Keep the Main Thing  the Main  Thing 

This one might be the most important, SHUT UP! Stop talking, just stop. Do not ramble on and on. I love Ted talks. I once looked up their advice for great talks. One of their suggestions is take enough time to make the point, no more no less. Don’t kill the point by over explaining it over and over. And the point of small group discussions is that the small group discusses. My goal is to speak as little as possible. Period.

This is not an exhaustive list of stuff that will make your group time yield better discussions. These are thoughts that I keep in mind while leading group discussions. Let me know what you think, how do you keep discussions meaningful in a small group discussion setting?

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