Remove Empty Chairs
Just do it quickly as you are starting - you want a close-knit group, and you don’t need reminders of those who didn’t show up! Having critical mass (or even the feeling of it) is always helpful.
Watch Your Posture
During the discussion, your posture will send a clear message to the group about how engaged you are. Lean forward in your chair to communicate that you are present and interested (sit back… and your group will follow your lead!). Try this out and watch it happen - it really does work!
Watch the Clock
Make this part easy for yourself and watch the clock from the first moment. Try to use a wall clock or a watch - DON’T use your phone! Even if it’s just for checking the time, looking at your cell phone during group always sends a mixed message!
Never Go in a Circle
The only exception is first meeting ice breakers, when no one knows anyone! When you go in a circle, people spend their time calculating their turn and planning what they’re going to say instead of listening. We always let people share at their own speed.
Maintain Eye Contact
Eye contact is very important when your group members are talking. If you’re facilitating the discussion and are engaged with your posture, people will most likely be talking toward you as they share. Eye contact demonstrates care and attention in a huge way, so don’t miss it.
Call People Out
Calling on specific people is a double-edged sword. Keep track of who has shared and who hasn’t, and be aware of the fine line we walk as facilitators. We let people share at their own speed, but we also want to make room for the ones who are more timid or need more time to think. It’s okay to say things like, “Let’s hear from someone who hasn’t shared yet,” or even “So-and-So, it looks like you’ve got something on your mind, do you want to share?” Even when we call on people, it’s always an invitation, not a command!
SHOW UP: Try Not to Cancel
Every group starts off at a different size, and some stat small! And sometimes, a huge chunk of your group has something come up! When you know it might just be you and a couple other people… it’ tempting to cancel. Do everything you can not to cancel due to lack of participation! Some of the best conversations happen with just a small handful of people, and it can be a great chance strengthen those individual relationships!
SHUT UP: Appreciate Strategic Silence
People need silence! After you ask a question resist the urge to fill the void yourself. Instead, count to ten slowly while you wait for a response from the group. When someone has offered something particularly profound, give the group a moment to let the thought sink in. If no one responds to a question and you answer it, they will rely on you for the duration. It’s actually better to say, “Let’s move on, if no one has anything to share on this question.” You can always go back to it.
You can think of it this way - if you talk first the majority of the time, or if you talk the most during a discussion, you may be missing the mark as a facilitator!
Creative Ways to Break the Ice
Good icebreakers accomplish two important goals:
(1) get to know more about each others’ stories
(2) get a conversation rolling by having everyone talk and share.
Here are some ideas:
Go around the circle and ask everyone to describe their whole week in five words or less.
For newer groups, ask everyone to share what places they’ve lived, what their worst/best job was, or their dream job or vacation spot.
Take the idea of the message series and ask a fun question about it that isn’t so serious!
One of the best ways to make an icebreaker effective is to ask good follow-up questions! Find out more and dive into people’s stories together!
Use one of these more standard icebreakers!
What super power would you have it you could pick whatever one you would want?
What's your favorite book or movie?
If you could be a character in a movie or book who would it be?
Favorite ice cream
Dream job other than your own
If you could ask anybody's advice, dead or alive, who would it be?
Strange or quirky talent
Favorite vacation? (camping or hotel? sun or snow? city or island?)