After the successful running of a few new discussion groups, friends of the shop Amy and Dom decided to have a little think about the reasons why these went so well and provide some tips on how to get the most out of your own discussion groups.
So here are their collaborative top tips for running a successful discussion group and just how important they feel each part is!
Amy: I would say that preparation is the key to running a successful group - I always prepare a set of questions to help to prompt discussion (just in case people go a bit quiet.) I wouldn’t be able to cope if I had come along unprepared!
Dom: I don’t put so much investment into planning and preparation - it’s good to have a few notes, of course. Perhaps it’s the difference in the nature of the groups we run but I always like to rely on the people attending to bring new knowledge and ideas.
Amy: On the subject of knowledge, I think it’s good to have a good background knowledge of your subject if you’re going to lead it. Definitely not to be an expert but, at least a good place to start.
Dom: I’d agree with that, although I think it’s really important to not have too much confidence in your own knowledge, to the point of arrogance.There will always be people with different opinions and it’s important not to present yourself as an expert. (You’ll then have lost no respect by not knowing the facts!)
3. Respect people’s opinions
Amy: Of course, respect everyone’s voice and make sure that no-one feels belittled or like their opinions aren’t just as valid as yours!
Dom: I like to be the facilitator for social relationships. Discussion groups are all about reading, thinking, talking and sharing. Everyone has something valid to contribute so make sure to include everyone.
Amy: One thing I would say is important too is to reign people in when they talk over others (something I struggle with in such a big group sometimes).
4. Don’t be disappointed with the size of the group
Dom: Although the group I host is smaller, it has a lot of quality opinions and I would never be disappointed with a smaller, niche group.
Amy: A bigger group can actually be quite daunting!
5. Allow for natural breaks
Dom: Another note; let natural breaks run their course. You don’t have to be consistently on topic for two hours.
Amy: I totally agree with this. The tangents people go off on can often be the most interesting parts. I’d still try to steer the course to the subject we chose, but discussion flowing in another direction doesn’t mean an unsuccessful conversation.
6. Keep Learning
Dom: Treat every group as a learning experience - learn from the people you speak to, and truly listen to them.
Amy: I’d say never take for granted that discussion groups will be the same… Every group is different and you should always try your best to adapt and learn from what works and what fails.
It's been brilliant to have two passionate people lead these groups. Muggle Musings occurs on the 3rd Saturday of each month at 3pm and is for ages 16+ whilst Rangers of Mordor Minor runs on the 2nd Saturdy from 3, open to all. Amy also hosts her own blog Writing Into The Ether.
Why is the Harry Potter group 16+?
We have had a few people ask why our Harry Potter group is for 16+ only. We keep our Harry Potter discussion group to 16+ as from experience the themes people draw from the books can be adult orientated despite them being children's books, (sexuality, mental illness, assault) and the group can get heavily invested and use the odd swear word. Although someone who is 15 or lower may have the knowledge, passion and ideas about Harry Potter than those of 16 and above, we feel we needed a cut off age so there is no grey area. Also, if someone is younger then we feel it could stop others from giving their opinion, for worry of offending. When Amy and I discussed the idea of the group, from the start we agreed that it'd be aimed directly at adults. Both our groups are held by volunteers who give up their time for free, including the amount of time it takes to research each months topic. The Lord of the Rings group brings a slightly older crowd and it's a lot smaller so doesn't bring the extreme passions and opinions that a group of 20+ 20-30 year olds does.