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23. Some tips on how to facilitate discussions

A few months ago, I was the moderator of a panel discussion at the Living Games Conference in Austin, Texas. In truth, I wasn’t really sure how I was going to run it, since I didn’t know how many people would be there. But since we ended up being around 25 or so, I opted for a circle format. Afterwards, I received a lot of very positive feedback that humbled me.

Two of the participants even took notes and wrote down what I did.

So thanks to the efforts of Jason Morningstar and John Stavropoulos, I bring you “Claus Raasted’s tips for facilitating discussions”. They did the hard work and documented the process. This is coming from a participant experience, and is way more detailed than anything I would have written.

Jason’s notes

  • Ask everyone to keep their comments very brief, and enforce this as politely as you can. But enforce it.
  • Keep to one question at a time. After the question du jour is asked, ask participants to raise their hands if they’d like to comment on it.
  • As facilitator, write down names in the order people raise their hands. That’s the order they get to comment in, except:
  • If it is your first time commenting, you go to the top of the list.
  • If only men are on the list and you are not a man, you go to the top of the list.

John’s notes

  • Please no background or history. State your question briefly. And actually state a question rather than making a proclamation instead.
  • You do not have to participate directly. It’s ok just to be here.
  • Keep answers short (towards the end this turned into, keep answers less than 1 minute, then when we had little time, keep answers less than 30 seconds).
  • The goal here isn’t to exhaustively answer a question. I might even move to the next question at the height of interest to encourage all of you to use this talk to spawn new talks!
  • If I miss someone, point at them.
  • Before you talk, state your name.
  • First time speakers go first.

Unstated but used techniques

  • Keep a list of who talk and how many times.
  • Keep a list of who wants to talk.
  • Forecast what is next. A, B, C person will go next. X, Y question are next.
  • Remind people of time. We have 10 minutes left. We have 5 minutes left.
  • Thank people after they make a contribution.
  • Use hand gestures to indicate someone should wrap up their comment.
  • Point out trends. “Let’s all keep in mind that 6 men just spoke in a row.”
  • Call out what everyone is thinking before they can say it and tangent the talk, “Before we all jump in and argue about why so and so country failed in WW2, let’s agree to disagree and move on.”
  • Use alibis and appeals to outside authorities when moderating people in ways they might react negatively to. “That’s a great point, but in the interest of time with 5 minutes left…” “Great topic, let’s tackle that topic in its own conversation after this…” “Congratulations, that only took 1 minute and 45 seconds, let’s see if we can beat these times to keep things shorter and shorter so we can hear from everyone.” “Awesome, 59 seconds, who can do 45 seconds next time!”
  • Be handsome and smile!!!

Needless to say, the last one is my personal favourite on the list. Mostly because I would never have added it, but I’ll be damned if I don’t quote it!

Video example

I hope some of you find this useful.

Written by

Director, The College of Extraordinary Experiences & Coach at McKinsey

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