How to Lead a Great Discussion

By Michael C. Mack

Several years ago Jim Lehrer was interviewed about what it takes to moderate a political debate. Several of his techniques are also applicable to teachers and small group leaders.

01_BP_Discussion_JN1. The focus must be on the participants, not the moderator. Some moderators are better at this than others. It’s a learned skill, Lehrer said, not an innate ability. Group leaders and teachers must learn to keep the focus on the participants, not themselves. The leader’s job is not to teach a lesson, where everyone’s attention is on him or her, but to facilitate (or moderate) a discussion in which participants hear from God as they share with one another. How does a good leader facilitate this? Lehrer’s second comment is helpful.

2. A moderator must prepare in such a way that he is relaxed enough to listen. Anyone can write and ask great questions, Lehrer said, but you prepare so that you can be relaxed enough to really listen. Lehrer shared a story from the 1960s about interviewing
a U.S. senator. The interview went like this:

Lehrer: “Should we sell more grain to Cuba?”

Senator: “Yes, Jim, I think we should sell more grain to Cuba. But first, we should bomb Havana.”

Lehrer: “What kind of grain, Senator?”

This happens in groups and classes as well. A leader asks a question from the study guide, and a great discussion follows. Meanwhile, the leader is looking down at his book. As the discussion slows down, the leader looks up and asks the next question, which was already answered during the previous discussion. The leader wasn’t listening. He was thinking about his or her next question.

Listening is one of the most important skills a group leader or teacher must learn. As a shepherd leader, focus on the people in the group and prepare in such a way that you can relax enough to listen and join in the discussion.

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