How to plan and lead a discussion

Why discuss?

Being challenged by other people’s thoughts and opinions can help you to think more deeply about your faith. Discussion groups are a great way of sharing thoughts and ideas.

Planning the discussion

Deciding what to discuss is, of course, the starting point. If the discussion will be held with an established group why not have a brief brainstorm session about what people are interested in. Once you’ve settled on a topic it’ll be useful to come up with some questions to stimulate debate. You may also want to include films or reading material to spark discussion; bible verses can be good for this. You could also start with someone giving a short talk, or two of more people giving different points of view on the topic and then opening the discussion out. 

Be prepared

Before the meeting, decide on the layout of the room e.g. putting all the chairs in a circle will create a more informal atmosphere which encourages group discussion but this layout is less suitable if everyone needs to be able to see a screen. Make sure you have all of the materials to hand that you will need during the meeting, and take a few minutes to put your notes and props in order before you start.

Communicate effectively

When leading from the front, speak slowly and more loudly than normal and remember to smile; nobody would ever guess you’re a bag of nerves! Remember your mood will often set the tone and put people at ease, so be calm but enthusiastic! Try and maintain eye contact with people and use positive body language rather than clutching onto notes – people find it easier to listen when you look at them and speak naturally.

Don’t panic

Never forget that group work is totally unpredictable. It doesn’t matter how prepared or experienced you are, you are never in full control. So much depends on how your group responds – so don’t be too hard on yourself and try to be flexible.

Get everyone involved

Remember you don’t need to be an expert in a subject to be able to lead a discussion on it. You will acquire sufficient background knowledge as you prepare for the session. Most important is a sensitivity to group dynamics, which you’ll develop with practice.

  • Use open questions and avoid ones that can be answered with a simple yes or no. This will ensure a more flowing conversation.
  • Breaking up into small groups (then getting them to feed back ideas to the whole group) helps to deal with quiet groups and gives everyone a chance to speak.
  • You may need to be fairly assertive if you have a chatterbox or someone who keeps going off on a tangent or if people keep interrupting each other.
  • Give individuals every opportunity to contribute but don’t get too pushy – someone may want to take a back seat for all kinds of reasons. You can always have a quick chat with them afterwards.

Some ideas when leading a discussion

  1. Vote with your feet. Have some statements based on the theme you are discussing, e.g. “You can have faith without being religious” Explain that one side of the room is for those who agree and the other for those who disagree. People can then sort themselves so those who agree strongly stand on one side of the room, those who utterly disagree on the other, those who have no preference in the middle, and everyone else somewhere along the scale according to their opinion. This can be adapted for any theme. It will give people an opportunity to move around and even quiet people get to express an opinion. You can then get discussion going by getting people to talk about why they stood where they were either in pairs or as a group. 
  2. Quotation sheets. If you have the time to prepare them, quotations sheets are a very good way of getting a discussion started. Find quotations that express a variety of opinions on the topic you are discussing and ask people what they think. These can be quotations from the Bible, books, newspapers, websites or wherever you can get them.  Give the source and then people can read up more if they want to afterwards. Keep quotations short and never give people any more than one side of A4 to read (there will be a pause while people read them, don’t panic when people don’t all start talking at once).
  3. Quotation cards. Another thing to do with quotations is to put them onto cards and ask groups to order them, with the ones they agree with most at the top and those they disagree with at the bottom. Ask each group to pick three cards; one from the top, one from the bottom and one other (maybe one that struck them or one they couldn’t agree on) and explain why they have picked those cards.
Resource type: 
How To Guide
Resource theme: 
Running a Group
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