One of my favorite ways to get to know others in a non-traditional networking environment is to participate in discussion groups. They may be formed around a particular topic, among a group of neighbors, as a result of a program or project, based on a book or video, or for any of a number of other reasons. For me, recent ones in which I have participated have included a group of women wanting to get to know each other and another was the result of wishing to explore current events. They are a lot of fun and I always walk away having learned something new.
What I’ve found is that once conversation gets going, it gets going! However, a facilitator can really add a little spark to jumpstart interaction. My friend, Denesha Snell, Program Director at American Public Square at Jewell, and a gifted facilitator herself, suggests the following:
- Embrace the role of Facilitator. You do not have to be the expert in the material or determine how everyone should contribute. Work to establish a trusting environment so each person can do that for themselves.
- Establish a starting point. Some groups won’t need prompting to begin conversations. Other groups will wait for direction from the facilitator. It’s good practice to have a few questions prepared in advance that might help start discussion, even if you don’t end up needing them.
- Focus on Questions, Not Answers. Focus your preparation time on questions to ask rather than answers to provide. Spend your time during facilitation asking questions and creating a space where genuine dialogue can emerge.
- Bring relevance to the discussion. People will engage more enthusiastically in group dialogue if they can see a clear connection to what’s in it for them. As a facilitator, you can bring relevance into the conversation by posting questions like, “How is this issue showing up in your life currently?” or, “Based on our topic, what do you agree or disagree with, and why?”
- Encourage conversation and relationship-building through open-ended questions. Examples include, “What do you mean by that?” and “How so?” or “Tell me more.”
Remember, these techniques work not just in driving discussion groups, but also in the workplace, and in everyday conversation.