How to conduct a group discussion

Why is a Group Discussion Organized ?

In the previous article, we talked about what is group discussion, the basics and how is it different from a debate. In this article we are going to cover a number of subjects including why a Group discussion is being conducted, the areas of evaluation during a selection GD and some more points:

We all know that recruitment process nowadays is not a cake walk process. It is complex than it used to be in earlier times. Gone are those days, when only basis mark sheets and degree one used to grab a job. Now selection in a company or even in a management college depends on how you perform during your Group Discussion and Personal Interview.

While watching many reality shows, singing or dancing contests on television, we get to see that the judges evaluate the candidates’ skills, not only basis their singing or dancing skill, but an ‘x’ factor is also important. Now, what is this ‘X’ factor? This X factor is determined through the group discussions. Hence GD plays an important part in letting the recruiters know, identify and acknowledge your skills other than your educational degrees.

Group Discussion serves several purposes:

Breeding fresh ideas and taking inputs from a particular group

Perception of common people on a particular topic

Identify a solution to a specific problem or issue

Selecting candidates after their written test for hiring in a company

Selecting candidates for admission in an educational institute

The group discussion is a two-way helpful process. A candidate who goes through the process gains clarity of his/her own thoughts, views and opinion. He/She learns how to evolve thinking and come to a solution or conclusion for a certain topic. And on recruiter’s part, it is helpful as they evaluate a candidate’s soft skills through Group discussion.

This also allows people to walk around a concept in greater detail and learn the topic in depth. This practice is also being applied during campus interviews and selection process. A group discussion among students is being organized to see and evaluate their thinking skills, listening abilities and how they are communicating their thoughts. One should learn to control the conversation through listening attentively and then having the perseverance to mould it towards his/her own direction.

Benefits of Group Discussions

It is a good way to engage the participants in a fruitful discussion

Group discussion generates a creative thinking in all participants, something beyond the obvious answers and solution to a specific problem

Generate more ideas and a structured presentation of a topic

Improves analytical abilities to think on a particular given topic

Enables profound and in-depth understanding of the subject

Provides different approaches to a topic

Helps to come to a concluding point or at least near solution to a problem

Gives a chance to listen, know and understand diverse opinions on a particular matter

Improves confidence in public speaking platform

Can alter our perspectives as well

Areas of Evaluation in a Selection GD

Though a group discussion, many things for a particular candidate can be assessed, such as his/her mental capacity to think, his creative bent of mind, Analytical abilities, comprehending a subject and then speaking on it, awareness, attitude, and energy levels. Some of them are detailed below:

Understanding of the Subject: During a group discussion, it is being constantly assessed how deep your knowledge is about the chosen topic and how well you are aware of each aspect of that topic.

Assertiveness: You confidence shows up in a group discussion. It is assessed that how confident you are while putting up your opinion in front of other. Others may certainly vary or disagree to the point but how well and how confidently you bring your thoughts forward is what matters the most.

Team Work: While working in an organization or even during management studies, it is very important to work as a part of the team in a given project or any assignment. This skill is really important and it is evaluated through GD as well. You not only put your own points but also listen to others and then come to a concluding point. This shows how ready you are to listen to other’s opinion, give value to that and also at the same time stand by your own convictions.

Willingness to Take the Initiative: This skill plays a very important part in professional and personal life. Employers highly regard it. They want that you just do not stick to your own work but also should be able to take extra initiative whenever it is required. When you start a topic, you have to be very cautious so as to put the right point forward and give the entire discussion a right direction.

Listening Skills: This is again an important skill which gets evaluated during a group discussion. So, you should learn to listen not to reply back, but pay full attention to what the other person is trying to say. Generally, people get biased to their own thoughts and ideas and do not want to look beyond that. So listening to other person is also essential.

Adaptability: In today’s dynamic and ever-changing environment, it is essential to keep yourself flexible and adaptable toward the situation. During a group discussion, sometimes you need to agree to some point and also it happens that in due course some views change your mind as well. So being rigid and stubborn is not going to be very helpful

Leadership Qualities: Group discussion demonstrates clearly who amongst them is taking the lead and who is a passive contestant. A good leader gives the entire discussion a good direction and takes it forward whenever it is deviating from the main topic. But while taking the lead, one has to be double sure whether his / her points are valid or not, else it will give the other person a golden opportunity to snatch the lead away and negate his/her points.

Communication Skills: As communication is a medium of expressing your thought, it is more important in today’s interactive world. Hence communication skills are yet again important skills which are evaluated through a structured group discussion.

Sections of This Topic Include

Learn More in the Library’s Blogs Related to Discussion Groups

In addition to the articles on this current page, also see the following blogs that have posts related to Discussion Groups. Scan down the blog’s page to see various posts. Also see the section “Recent Blog Posts” in the sidebar of the blog or click on “next” near the bottom of a post in the blog. The blog also links to numerous free related resources.

Guidelines to Conduct Discussion Groups

Note that the reader might best be served to first read the topic Group Dynamics to understand the basic nature of most groups and their typical stages of development. (It’s not clear at this time if online groups have similar nature and stages.)

Typical Purpose of a Discussion Group

The purpose of the discussion technique is to ensure interaction among group members to identify, clarify, analyze and/or select an item, for example, about:

  • Issues
  • Recommendations
  • Objectives
  • Responsibilities
  • Timelines

Process for a Discussion Group

The process of the discussion technique typically includes the following steps.

  1. Specify the discussion topic and the goal to the planning group (if possible, do this step as pre-work before the next meeting). The goal is usually to identify, clarify, analyze and/or select an item.
  2. It is often best if the topic is described in the form of a “yes/no” question or a choice from among alternatives, for example, “Should we approve ___?” or “Should we hire ____?”.
  3. Specify when the discussion is to start and stop.
  4. Allow for open, unassigned exchange of information, for example, questions, suggestions or general comments until it is time to stop the discussion. Give the group a 2-minute warning when time is almost up.
  5. Facilitate to focus the discussion around the topic.
  6. Attempt to capture key points on a flipchart.
  • Attempt to summarize the discussion by identifying conclusions or decisions from the discussion.
  • The group can make selections from the results using voting (ranking or rating) and/or consensus techniques.

Important Skills for Facilitation of Discussion Groups

The quality of the discussion group can be enhanced significantly if guided by a skilled facilitator.
All About Facilitation

Also, sound skills in meeting management ensure a clear and consistent purpose and framework in which to work toward that purpose.
Guidelines to Conducting Effective Meetings

Various Perspectives on Discussion Groups

For the Category of Facilitation and Teams:

To round out your knowledge of this Library topic, you may want to review some related topics, available from the link below. Each of the related topics includes free, online resources.

Also, scan the Recommended Books listed below. They have been selected for their relevance and highly practical nature.

How to conduct a group discussion

​ERP projects and business transformations are exciting ventures for executives. However, this excitement is almost always accompanied by apprehension. With this apprehension comes questions like: Will my employees reject the proposed changes? Will managers support me in this venture? Will this initiative be successful?

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For many companies, answers to these questions will only be answered days or weeks after the project begins. However, among the many items in an executive’s repertoire exists a powerful tool that can help them answer these questions before the project commences: focus groups.

Before we talk about how to conduct a focus group, let’s take a look at the definition of a focus group and some of the pros and cons.

What is a Focus Group?​

​A focus group is a gathering of stakeholders who are selected to participate in a planned discussion intended to uncover perceptions about a particular topic in a non-threatening environment. Taking a deeper look at this definition, there are some key terms that should be clarified:


This includes employees, managers, executives, customers and anyone who might be impacted by the topic of interest.

Planned Discussion

​Agendas and relevant training materials must be created in advance. In addition, the meeting date must be set at a time that encourages maximum participation from the stakeholders.

Uncover Perceptions

The objective of the focus group is to pull information from stakeholders. There should be an open floor for discussion to encourage maximum participation.

Non-threatening Environment

This is one of the most important aspects of the focus group definition. The focus group must be designed in a way that allows participants to feel free to discuss potential pain points. One way to ensure this is to conduct different focus groups for employees at different levels to ensure they are not filtering their opinions due to their managers being present.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Focus Groups

​Much attention has been given to focus groups across the change management community. This is because, if orchestrated correctly, focus groups can yield valuable and actionable information. Following are some advantages of using focus groups:

  • They help obtain information about personal and group opinions.
  • They provide the opportunity to ask follow-up questions.
  • They can save time and money when compared to the cost of individual interviews.
  • They can provide a broader range of information than individual interviews.

While there are distinct advantages to conducting a focus group, there are some disadvantages, as well:

  • Disagreements between group members and irrelevant discussion can distract from the main topic.
  • Focus groups findings can be difficult to analyze.
  • Some participants might not be willing to share their opinions due to fear of backlash.

Talk to any MBA aspirant or a job seeker, he can very well tell the importance of a Group Discussion also called GD. In the current scenario, group discussion has become an important selection criteria for the students aspiring to get into a good B School and all leading organizations have started depending on this process for the recruitment of new employees.

What is Group Discussion ?

A group discussion is simply a method instrumental in judging the team spirit, leadership qualities, out of the box thinking, and other managerial qualities in an individual. In a layman’s language, a group discussion is a discussion involving a group of around seven to eight participants.

How HR conducts the interview ?

The commonly asked questions to a job aspirant are:

  • Tell me something about yourself ?
  • Throw some light on your strengths and weaknesses
  • Why do you think our organization should hire you ?
  • Salary negotiations and joining date

All the above questions do tell us a lot about the individual’s intelligence, thought process, characteristics, family background, educational qualifications etc but fail to highlight some other important aspects of the individual’s personality essential to survive well in an organization.

Do you think an individual can work alone and produce results in an organization ?

The answer is No. Every individual works in a team and has to rely on his fellow workers for his easy working and better output. He has to be a good team player to make his mark in the ever challenging corporate world.

Through group discussions, the interviewer can evaluate how well an individual can perform in a team. He can very easily find out how well an individual can perform in teams, how good a leader he is and also his creative skills and intelligence quotient.

Every individual must learn the successful tips of group discussion to fair well in the interviews as well as the screening process of educational institutes.

Here are Some Tips for a Successful Group Discussion

The first and the foremost tip for an individual to perform well in a GD is to learn the art of participation. Don’t expect others to force you to speak. Take the initiative, participate in the discussion and share your ideas with others. Never shout in a group discussion and always wait for your turn to speak. Remember it’s a discussion, not a fighting ground. Be polite but firm.

Try to take the initiative. Don’t wait for the others to start the discussion. Always volunteer yourself and start the discussions in an extremely confident manner. Introduce yourself and your team members and then start with the topic but one thing to remember here is that one must initiate the Group Discussion only when he or she is well versed with the topic. Don’t take the risk if you yourself are not very clear about your thoughts.

A leader is the one who actually gives the group discussion a direction and guides other team members when they seem to be lost or confused. Like a true leader, an individual must try his level best to refrain from personal favours. Don’t only ask your acquaintance to speak, give equal opportunity to other participants as well. As the leader of the group, he must ensure that the discussion does not end up in fighting and reaches a conclusion.

One must speak only if he is well prepared with the topic. Don’t just speak for the sake of points or marks; speak only when you are absolutely sure about what you are speaking. Never depend on guess works in group discussions as it sometimes can seriously go against you. Avoid using slangs or crack jokes in between the discussions as it is considered highly unprofessional.

Never be rigid in group discussions. Always keep in mind that the other person is also as learned as you. Always listen to what he is saying and then only respond. Be a good and a patient listener. Don’t just simply draw conclusions as there is always a room for discussions. Debate logically and sensibly and try to take everyone along with you.

Read a lot and always keep your eyes and ears open. Always begin your day with the newspaper and know what is happening around you. An individual must be aware of the current events to succeed well in a group discussion.

Be alert always. A participant usually gets around 15 minutes to think about the topic. You need to think fast and cover as much as you can. Always take care of your words. The content has to be sensible, crisp and well supported with examples or real life situations. Don’t adopt a laidback attitude or yawn in between group discussions.

Take care of your dressing as well. Don’t wear flashy clothes while going for a group discussion or interview. Female candidates should also avoid cakey makeup or flaunt heavy jewellery. The clattering sounds of bangles sometimes act as a disturbing element in formal discussions. Be in professional attire and avoid loud colours.

An individual must keep in his mind that group discussion is meant for bringing out the managerial skills of an individual. The organizer of the group discussion will never appreciate you or give you the credit if you shout or fight in group discussions. Be calm, composed, confident and neutral to create an impression in the discussion and win over others.

Leading a Successful Discussion

Why a Leader/Moderator Can Be a Good Idea

Even if your members are used to being part of group discussions and are good at listening to each other, it can still be a good idea to have somebody lead the meeting, in part to make sure that everyone’s voices get heard but also to come prepared with thoughts on what topics would be good to discuss, so if the conversation starts to run dry in one area, the leader can redirect to more fertile areas.

The Moderator’s Role

  • The role of a moderator will vary from group to group. Some groups might have a consistent moderator – for example if your group is run by the local library, a librarian will probably lead the meetings; other groups rotate the role; others may not feel they need one at all. In general, we recommend having a moderator and rotating the role.

The moderator’s role is to:

  • keep the meeting on track – digressions are fine but if the conversation strays too far off topic it’s your job to bring it back.
  • introduce a new topic of discussion if the conversation seems to be flagging.
  • make sure that everyone feels that their voice has been heard and that no one person’s voice is heard too much (and that includes your own!).
  • keep things civil – it wouldn’t be much of a discussion if everybody agreed, but it is important that people express their alternate opinions in constructive ways that open a point up for discussion rather than disrespectfully squashing the opposition.

Tips on Leading Meetings

It’s your turn to moderate/lead your book club’s discussion. What can you do to ensure a successful meeting?

  • Your group probably has a fixed day and time to meet but the location might change. Even with a fixed day, a reminder a few days ahead can be useful, and knowing where the meeting is to be is very useful!
  • Remind the group when it’s time for the discussion to start.
  • If there are new members, make sure they are introduced.
  • If there is any business to discuss, such as picking books for future meetings, you may want to cover these points before the discussion starts – in case people need to leave quickly at the end.
  • If there is a need, refresh people’s memories on your group’s ground rules – not all of them, just any where there have been issues. A minute or two on this can be time well spent. If you or other members feel there has been a problem in earlier meetings (e.g. one person dominating the conversation or too much off-topic conversation), this is the appropriate time to remind people what was previously agreed, rather than having to confront the person during the meeting.
  • Consider asking members to briefly give their opinion on the book. This makes sure that everybody’s voice is heard early on and also will give you a feel as to how the conversation will go, and what areas are most likely to be of interest – and, of course, which members of the group have actually read the book! (Groups vary in their opinions on whether members can come to book club not having read the book, but one thing most agree is that those who have not read, or not finished, the book cannot tell the rest not to discuss plot spoilers.) More on this here.
  • Have a good topic of discussion to start the conversation and make sure to have some more ready to introduce if the conversation flags, goes off topic, starts to repeat itself or gets uncomfortably contentious. Many books suitable for book clubs have discussion guides. If the book you’re discussing has one it’s certainly worth printing it out – but do look through it before the discussion opens and decide which topics you think your group will enjoy. Most discussion guides are written in conversational tones, but some seem to be written by people channelling their inner English literature and need to be decrypted to find the salient topic hiding within the complex and multi-part question! If there isn’t a reading guide, or you just prefer not to use official guides, you might find our DIY discussion guide tips of use.

It is quite likely that you won’t get through all the potential topics you’ve thought of for discussion. In fact, after opening the discussion, you may not even need to introduce any. If the conversation is flowing well it will naturally expand from the original topic into other interesting areas

  • Consider doing some research ahead of the meeting. For example, maybe look around for an interview with the author or, if the book is set in an interesting time or place, do some research on that so that you can provide background to the discussion.
  • Don’t be too rigid keeping people on topic. As Harold Bloom (one of America’s leading literary critic) says, the purpose of a book is

    “to get in very close to a reader and try to speak directly to what it is that they either might want out of the book or might be persuaded to see. [to persuade the reader] that certain truths about himself or herself, which are totally authentic, totally real, are being demonstrated to the reader for the very first time”

    In short, discussions do not have to stay rigidly about the book to be relevant. Many of the best discussions are triggered by the book and then the members discuss the topic from the perspective of their own experience. Having said that, if the conversation is going way off topic (which might be defined as a conversation involving just a couple of people that is not of interest to the group as a whole), it’s time to bring it back on track

    To be fully prepared, you might wish to read our Tips on Handling Difficult Meeting Situations page!

    How to conduct a group discussion

    Classroom discussions have been a staple of teaching forever, beginning with Socrates. I have taught using discussions, been a student in discussions, and observed other teachers’ discussions thousands of times — at least. Some have been boring, stifling or tedious enough to put me to sleep. Others have been so stimulating that I was sad to see them end. The difference between the two is obviously how interesting the topic is, but equally important is the level of student participation.

    It’s not enough for students to simply pay attention — they need to be active participants to generate one of those great discussions that end far too quickly for both the teacher and students. The worst types of discussions are serial one-on-one talk between a student and teacher, leaving the rest of the class out of the process. Many students stop listening, begin to fade or disengage during this flawed procedure.

    The best discussions keep everyone active, either by sharing or thinking. Even those students who rarely, if ever, contribute can still participate in other ways. Here are five of my favorite ways to design discussions in a dynamic and exciting manner.

    1. Lightning Rounds

    Just the name “lightning round” suggests energy. Make it even more dramatic by playing up the concept of speed, fun and excitement. Have your discussion questions prepared in advance so that you can ask them faster. Short-answer questions obviously work best for this technique. Students have 30 seconds (or a more appropriate time for your particular class) to answer. They can either answer or pass — and no negativity is associated with passing. Ask the questions rapidly while growing the anticipation for each next question by imitating quiz show lightning rounds: “Are you ready for the next question? Here it comes.” Ask the question before calling on a student so that all students must be ready to answer. The lightning round should take no longer than ten minutes, the approximate time that the energy begins to diminish.

    2. Throw the Ball

    When you ask a discussion question, call on students by letting them catch a ball. With young children, you can use a beach ball and roll it to students in a circle. Older students can catch a beach ball or nerf football. This way of calling on students can either be a lot of fun and full of energy, or it can be a disaster. Be sure to keep the throwing distance short enough to prevent chaos. Make the rules clear and stop if they are broken:

    • Do not intercept the ball.
    • Do not throw the ball at another student.
    • Do not try to break anything in the class with the ball.

    In spite of the potential danger with using a ball, I have seen this done with much success and great student involvement. A variation that is safer and fun for grades 1-3 is to pass a teddy bear to the student who will answer the next question.

    3. Group Answers

    Two commonly used discussion techniques can be put together to allow a discussion that involves everybody at the same time. One is to form small groups of about three students. When the teacher asks a discussion question, every group has a small discussion of its own to come up with an answer. Questions of complexity work best with this method. Add to that the use of small cards with each having a method of group identification. After allowing enough time for each group to develop its answer, randomly pick a card and let that group give their answer. You can pick more than one card for each question. When the answer has been completed, put the used card back in the deck, so that no group can relax and think that their turn is over.

    4. Agreements

    Keep each question going longer by engaging more students in the discussion. When the first student answers a question, ask another student if he or she agrees or disagrees with that answer. Then ask another student, and keep going until at least five students have participated in each question.

    5. Questionnaires

    A fun way to discuss famous people or fictional characters is to choose someone you are studying. Divide the class into groups of two or three, and have each group come up with three to five questions they would like to ask that person in an interview style. All group members should agree on all the questions. Each group then passes their questions to another group so that all groups have someone else’s questions. Each group then has the task of answering one question in writing, with full agreement, and in a way they imagine the person might answer. Papers are changed until all questions are answered. Then encourage each group to share their questions and the answers they received.

    One final point about good discussions: most students can easily hear the teacher, but depending on room arrangement, it can often be difficult for students to hear each other. Have you ever tried to follow a press conference on television when you could not hear the question, only the answer? Our response ranges from frustration to giving up listening. Be sure to repeat student answers if any class member can’t hear it.

    I’m sure that every reader has either a variation of these discussion methods or some great ones of your own. I hope that many of you are willing to add yours to my humble list. Let’s create a dynamic discussion of ideas in this space.

    The ideal group usually consists of eight-ten participants. If the number of participants is more than that, then there is a tendency for some of the members to be passive listeners and avoid participation. Similarly, if the number of participants is less than six, the discussion suffers from a lack of diversity in opinions. The time allotted for the discussion is normally twenty-thirty minutes.

    Cases like when the aim of the group discussion is teaching and learning or when the subject of the group discussion is uncommon or tough , the group discussion may be held under the guidance of a group leader or a facilitator. The group facilitator announces the topic and gives a brief introduction. He may give initial arguments to initiate the discussion. A certain degree of expertise is expected from the group leader. He is generally responsible for concluding and summarizing the discussion.

    There are two ways of organizing a group discussion. In one case, the topic is given to the candidates well in advance and the participants are expected to come prepared for the discussion. In the other case, the topic is disclosed to the participants after they assemble and they are given about ten minutes to think about it

    Types of Group Discussion

    We will classify group discussions based on the following:

    • Method of conduct
    • Nature of topic

    Based on the Method of Conduct

    Bases on the method of conduct, group discussions can be further classified into the following:

    (i) Structured Group Discussion: In this type of group discussion, the topic is given to the participants by the selectors and a time-frame is allotted to complete the discussion. This is the most commonly followed technique for a group discussion.

    (ii) Unstructured Group Discussion: In unstructured group discussions, unlike in the case of structured group discussions, the candidates themselves decide the topic with mutual consent. This formal method of group discussions is rarely used.

    (iii) Role Play: In this type of group discussion, the candidates are given specific roles to play in the backdrop of a given situation. Within the framework of their role, the participants have to solve the problems inherent in the situation given to them.

    (iv) Group Discussion with a Nominated Leader: Generally, no-one is nominated as leader of a group discussion and all participants are treated as equal. But in this type of a group discussion, a person is nominated as a facilitator or a leader of the group. He may summarize the discussion or solutions discussed at the end of the group discussion. Sometimes the leader is nominated by the group members themselves.

    Based on Nature of the Topic

    Group discussions can also be categorized based on the topic allotted for the discussion to the participants. There are three kinds of topics-controversial topics, abstract topics and case study topics.

    (i) Controversial Topics: These are topics which are controversial and which have the potential to generate an argument. Such topics generally make the discussion lively as arguments and counter arguments are presented. This gives the evaluators more opportunities to evaluate the candidates.

    Examples of such topics include ‘Should the examination system be scrapped’ or ‘How ethical is cloning?’.

    (ii) Abstract Topics: There is a growing trend of assigning abstract topics, that is, topics which are vague or unclear. These topics enable the evaluators to evaluate the creative ability of the candidates. Every candidate can have his own interpretation of the topic. Some such topics are ‘Zero’, ‘One and one make eleven’.

    (iii) Case Study Topics: Here, a situation is provided to the participants which may depict a problem faced by the organization or the managers. Participants need to analyze the situation and think of various alternatives to solve the problem. This kind of a group discussion tests the ability of the candidate to think of solutions keeping the situational factors and constraints in mind.

    Important Ingredients for Success In Group Discussions

    There are certain important traits which are essential for being a successful participant in a group discussion. These include:

    (i) Positive Personality: Group discussions are an effective tool for assessing the overall personality of the candidate. Personality includes not only one’s external appearance but also the traits one possesses. Thus, during group discussions the dressing style, speaking style, attitude towards others, presentation style, and so on, are evaluated. During the twenty-five-thirty minutes one has, one needs to create a favorable impression on the evaluators. A pleasing personality makes a favorable impression giving one an edge over the others.

    (ii) Communication Skills: The key to an effective group discussion lies in the ability to communicate effectively through both one’s verbal and non-verbal skills. One needs to express the ideas and opinions logically and with clarity. Brilliant ideas and sound knowledge are of little use unless they are expressed properly. One needs to possess good oratory skills with a sound vocabulary. Besides being a good speaker, one needs to be a good listener because in group discussions one needs to speak keeping in mind what has been or is being said by others.

    (iii) Sound Knowledge and Awareness Level: The participants’ knowledge and general awareness is another major ingredient for a successful group discussion. The participant needs to have originality in his/her ideas, that is, he should hold his own viewpoint and have considerable depth of knowledge. Lack of knowledge and ideas may lead to repetition and monotony. This is not a desirable and may go against one’s success.

    (iv) Ability to Coordinate: The participant’s ability to coordinate the team and work in harmony with others is another ingredient for success in group discussions. Cooperation and positive contribution towards the discussion are vital. One must display the ability to take control of the discussion without operating to be dominating.

    How to conduct a group discussionThe first article in this series explained how to plan a group discussion.

    In this article, we describe best practices when leading a group discussion.

    There’s much more involved than simply getting people in a room, waving a magic wand, and declaring “Discuss now!” Your role as a discussion leader is complex and requires great mental dexterity and tact. How can you keep the discussion steadily flowing in a productive way at the right pace towards achieving your objectives?

    Best Practices

    Every discussion is different, and being a successful leader requires you to adapt to your individual situation. Still, there are a set of best practices which will lead you to success more often than not.

    1. Use tools which promote discussion.

    Flip charts, whiteboards, and sticky notes are ideal. The nature of these tools make them ideal for encouraging participation: a blank canvas, easy to erase (or turn the page) and iterate.

    Resist slides. Slides feel permanent, and give the impression that there’s nothing left to discuss. (Occasionally, you may kick start a discussion with a few slides to set context, but don’t overuse them.)

    2. Diverge first, then converge. Repeat as necessary.

    “ Your role as a discussion leader is complex and requires great mental dexterity and tact. ”

    A common mistake made by discussion leaders is to converge too early. Not only does this strategy carry the risk of missing a good idea, but it makes participants tentative, fearing embarrassment for offering an idea that may be immediately eliminated.

    Instead, consider starting your session by brainstorming and letting the ideas flow without analysis and judgement. This encourages early participation and gets everyone involved. Later, with many ideas on the table, start narrowing the options together and converge on the best ideas.

    3. Restate and summarize often.

    Summarizing is important to remind your group of the consensus that has been achieved. Be sure that your summary reflects the opinions expressed by your group; don’t skew reality to push your personal agenda.

    In short discussions (e.g. thirty minutes or an hour), it is sufficient to summarize only at the end.

    In long discussions (e.g. a day or multiple days), summarize at regular intervals. (I try to do this at least every 60 or 90 minutes.) This allows you to naturally “close” one topic and move on to the next.

    4. Be open-minded and curious.

    “ Be genuinely interested in hearing the opinions of others, and be open to changing any preconceptions you hold. ”

    Be genuinely interested in hearing the opinions of others, and be open to changing any preconceptions you hold. Ask questions sincerely. When someone contributes a fresh idea, explore it wholly, regardless of what your initial reaction might be.

    The sign of a poor discussion leader is one who attempts to systematically convince everyone else in the room that they are always right. That’s not a discussion; it’s a lecture.

    5. Build consensus.

    As the discussion heats up, emotions can run high among participants. If left unchecked, the atmosphere may begin to feel combative. Participants may start to dig in and entrench themselves in positions, and forget about the common objectives.

    “ Help all participants understand and appreciate the perspectives being offered by others. ”

    Resist the temptation to “take sides” or pretend that you are the judge or referee. Instead, help all participants understand and appreciate the perspectives being offered by others. Find the common ground which binds together diverse opinions and share these connections.

    To succeed, draw upon classic public speaking skills e.g. tell stories; make analogies; walk up and down the ladder of abstraction.

    6. Beware negative language.

    As leader, you have great influence over the mood of the room. The words you choose and the non-verbal communication you exude are infectious, whether positive or negative.

    Exhibit genuine positive emotions, such as happiness, excitement, curiosity, optimism, surprise, and thoughtfulness.

    Attempt to stifle negative emotions, such as anger, boredom, disappointment, disgust, indifference, hopelessness, or misery. This isn’t always easy; I have felt all of those at various times when I’ve led discussions.

    7. Record minutes as you go.

    If minutes are required for your discussion, it is your responsibility as the leader to ensure they are recorded. Don’t attempt to do this yourself; delegate someone from the group to take minutes.

    The moments when you summarize verbally are excellent opportunities to clearly document decisions you have reached. Each time you record a shared decision, it builds momentum for the group.

    8. Stay on schedule.

    When the discussion is flowing, it is tempting to ignore the clock and let it flow. This is a dangerous habit. Schedule slips inevitably lead to unsatisfied objectives.

    Sometimes, you need to be flexible and consciously reschedule on the fly. Most of the time, however, it is wiser to stick to the schedule. In a lengthy session (e.g. all day), enforcing the schedule early sends a message to all participants that the schedule is “real” and not “just a guideline”.

    9. Take care of your participants.

    Remember to take breaks at regular intervals; exhausted participants will tend to lose focus and become quiet.

    Resolve problems with the environment as they occur. Act decisively.

    10. Delegate leadership when appropriate.

    There may be situations where it makes sense for someone else to lead the discussion for a certain topic within your overall session. Delegate leadership of the discussion to have the “right” person lead for a while.

    Do not “surprise” them on the spot — this never turns out well. Ask them ahead of time so they have a chance to prepare. Let them know when you will pass control to them, for what purpose, and for what duration of time.

    When the time comes for the transition, make sure this shift is communicated clearly to the group. Support the temporary leader by being an active participant.

    Next in this Series…

    In the next article of this series, we’ll learn how to manage challenging personalities within your group.

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