Have you ever had to facilitate a group discussion? It could be a work brainstorming meeting, focus group or accountability small group.
Every so often, we may find that the discussion is veering off course or losing steam, some voices drown others out, ideas or content get stale, or things get heated.
Here are some tools and techniques to help facilitate group discussions.
1. Paraphrasing: You restate what the participant has said in your own words. You could say, “What I’m hearing is…”, or “Just to clarify, what you’re saying is…”
2. Reflecting feelings: You say and express what the participant is feeling. E.g., “You seem to be surprised about…”
3. Reflecting meaning: You say what the participant seems to be feeling or expressing and the reason for it. E.g., “You seem to be surprised about this … because … is that correct?”
4. Mirroring: You use the participant’s exact words but you do not adopt the same tone.
5. Summarising: You systematically and succinctly summarise the main points of the discussion so far.
6. Summarising with participants: You request the participants to help summarise the main points of the discussion.
7. Drawing people out: You could say, “tell me more about…”, “could you give an example or illustration?”, “What do you mean by?”
8. Probing for deeper thinking: You could say, “Could you share why you think this way?”, “What led to this conclusion?”, “What are the underlying issues to the problem?”
9. Get below the surface: Ask why–and keep asking why until it reaches the bottom.
10. Generate creative thinking: Ask questions which shifts focus away from constraints. E.g., “What if…?”, “How do you imagine this could be if…?”, “What is your ideal picture of…?”
11. Embedded question: E.g. “I wonder how you will apply this in…?”
Keeping on Track
12. Sequencing: If several people are speaking at once or want to speak, you could state the sequence (based on who spoke / raised hands first). Sometimes, you would have to interrupt the sequence or the conversation to let people address the last point before going on to a new topic.
13. Tracking: Summarise key points first before letting the discussion move on to another topic. This helps bring back focus.
14. Encouraging: Ask questions to get certain participants to share but not single them out or embarrass them. E.g. “Anyone else has some thoughts on this? Let’s hear from [those on this side etc.]”.
15. Balancing: E.g. “Anyone has a different view on this?” “What do the rest think about this?”
16. Creating space: Say that you will now get everyone to share their thoughts in a [clockwise] sequence. Or if one of the participants had a noticeable change of expression or express something in body language, ask, “[name], did you wish to say something?”
17. Silence: Silence allows people time to process and think. You can expressly say “let’s take 30 seconds to think about the last point”.
Finding Common Ground
18. Summarise. compare & contrast: You summarise the key points by way of similarities and differences in views. Or you can invite participants to do the same.
19. Use the clock: You can say e.g. “We’ve got 5 minutes left, let’s hear from those who have not spoken.” or “We’ve got 5 minutes left, anything else that should be said before we close?” or “We’re running out of time. Any suggestions on how we can speed this up to cover the rest of the points?”