Monday, October 24, 2011

Leading Good Discussions

I feel that one of the best ways to teach others is through dialogue: open-ended discussion that allows each person involved to draw their own (hopefully meaningful) conclusion.

I think many of us see the value in good discussions, but are often frustrated on how to get there.

Equally frustrating is when you expect a learning time to be discussion-oriented, but instead there's just one person waxing eloquent on the subject at hand.  Sometimes this happens because they don't know any better.  Other times they truly want to lead a discussion but don't know how.  Either way, help is here.

Pheaney's Discussion Starting 101
  1. Ask questions.  Brilliant I know.
  2. Ask good questions.
    1. Can you answer the question with a Yes or No?  You need a new question.
    2. Is it a rhetorical question?  You need a new question.  (There's nothing wrong with a good rhetorical question in public speaking, but they just don't work in a discussion time.)
  3. Wait for an answer.  Really wait. 
    1. You might not be giving everyone enough time to formulate a response.
    2. Or you might always answer your own questions, which just conditions people to not answer your questions.  (Why should they?  You're going to answer them anyway!)
  4. Rephrase your question if needed.
  5. Just wait longer.
  6. Allow others to ask questions.  And then engage them in those questions.  You want an atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable asking anything.
I'll add to this if I think of anything else.  Do you have anything to add?


  1. Hmmm... Good stuff. I'm going through the same things right now with some discussions I'm leading. It's a different type of thing than the presentation type stuff I'm used to.

    I think there's more to be said under point 2 for how to pick good questions. I'm just not sure what yet:)

    And controlling the flow of the discussion is important...picking up on what's coming up and running with it, learning to flow with it and reorganize your plan if the conversation starts going a different way...or going where you wanted, just quicker or in a different order than planned. Also, controlling the flow so that all/most are involved and one person doesn't dominate or derail.

    And with that, I'll stop leaving long comments:)

    Secret word: baselvu

  2. Since you're the only one who leaves comments at all, you are welcome to make them as long as you like.

    Great point about 'controlling the flow'. I've noticed that practice actual helps with that... the more discussions you lead the better you are at 'feeling' how they are going, where they are headed, and how to adapt your leading.

    I don't have a secret word.