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How to Lead a Group Discussion

Leading a Group Discussion

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Why Have Group Discussions?

The primary purpose of discussion is to generate thought and build a better understanding of a topic through the exchange of ideas. Good discussion in a group setting involves all of the members contributing their own thoughts and ideas while listening and evaluating the thoughts and ideas of others. Good discussion does not require agreement between members but it does require civility without condemnation or mockery of anyone’s contributions.

Basic Components of Group Discussion

Provide the group with a topic and some level of information about the topic.  Sometimes the group members may already be somewhat familiar with the topic and need little additional information to generate good discussion.  Sometimes it is necessary for the group to read or view materials about the topic before good discussion is possible. A very common starter for discussion is to provide group members with a brief statement, reading or video and then use this material as the basis for the discussion. Questions are key to good discussion and should be used by a facilitator or leader to initiate, promote and manage the discussion.   

 Preparing to Lead a Group Discussion

1.      Choose and set the stage to promote and support discussion

2.      Be thoroughly familiar with the topic and any support materials

3.      Have a plan and a set of questions to promote discussion

4.      Consider your audience and the level of discussion most effective 

5.      Provide any materials or readings needed for the discussion to all members

Leading a Group Discussion (Facilitating)

1.       Serve as facilitator and not directive instructor

2.       Create the desired atmosphere and establish ground rules

a.       Professional but open atmosphere to share ideas

b.       No arguments or attacks directed at people

c.       Everyone should be heard without interruption

d.       Ask people to respect time and share the stage with others

3.       Introduce the topic and launch the discussion

4.       Ask open-ended questions

5.       Keep the discussion focused on the topic

6.       Seek to involve everyone in the discussion

7.       Do not let anyone dominate the discussion

8.       Allow disagreement while it remains professional and not personal

9.       Speak as little as needed to achieve reasonable facilitation

10.   Summarize and review important points, arguments or ideas


Vanderbilt Discussion Guides

Art of Discussion - Christenson