Tips for Facilitating Large Group Conversations

While I am definitely not an expert in facilitating group conversations, sometimes I do often offer this support in community spaces. This weekend was one of those times. I often get folks expressing appreciation for my work, so I thought I would offer some strategies I’ve found useful over the years of doing this so that others can start doing this too. 

Here are just some of my tips for facilitating large group conversations.

Set expectations and guidelines together

One of the hardest things to do in facilitating a conversation is to do so in a way that everybody is comfortable with. by setting guidelines and expectations for how the conversation should be facilitated together, you can avoid situations where folks feel like you are making unilateral decisions about how or which topics are being discussed.

Pay attention to the clock and ensure breaks are breaks

By setting a clear understanding of how long a conversation will be, you can ensure that folks don’t get burnt out or overwhelmed during a long conversation. make sure to incorporate breaks into the conversation, and make sure that these breaks are actually breaks: meaning that further discussion doesn’t take place until the entire group has returned.

The speaker’s list shouldn’t necessarily be chronological

Often, folks assume that whoever asked to speak first should be passed the mic. This seems like a good way of organizing the conversation, but sometimes means that you hear from the same voices (who are more likely to raise their hand quickly) instead of ensuring that the less-heard voices are prioritized.

Be ready to encourage folks to refocus or recentre a specific topic

You’ll need to be ready for folks to go on tangents or try to speak to things that are of-topic. while going of topic can often bring new ideas or invite a new perspective, it can also derail important conversations. unless it has been decided otherwise through group expectation or guideline setting, if you’re sensing that the conversation is veering of course, be ready to encourage folks to refocus in a way that isn’t demanding, but urges folks to be reflective of what they’re sharing.

Keep your opinions to yourself

Your role in facilitating a conversation isn’t to offer your thoughts or opinions on the topic at hand, it’s to facilitate the conversation. when you choose to take up time to share your own opinions, it means you’re putting yourself on the speaker’s list above others. Unless you’re offering a summary interpretation or suggestion for moving forward with the conversation, your participation should mostly be moderation, not your feelings or ideas. if you have lots to say, it might be best to let someone else facilitate.

While these are definitely not the only things to keep in mind, nor are they applicable in every situation, these are just some of the things I have in mind while facilitating discussions with large groups.

Next time you’re in a group setting, consider paying attention to other strategies that someone is using to successfully facilitate a meaningful conversation. The more you pay attention to these strategies and tools, the more ready you’ll be when the next time someone needs a group facilitator!