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Leading a Discussion


Leading a Book Discussion


Let's say it’s your turn to moderate/lead your book club's discussion. What can you do to ensure a successful meeting?

  • Firstly, the role of a moderator will vary from group to group. Some groups might be very formal with an 'official' moderator – for example if your group is run by the local library it is quite likely that a member of the library staff will lead the meeting; other groups might rotate the role; others may not feel they need one at all (which many don't). The moderator's role is somewhere between a chairperson and host/hostess, it's the moderator's responsibility to:
    • Keep the meeting on track – digressions are fine but if the conversation strays too far off topic it's your job to bring it gently back on track again.
    • Make sure that everyone feels their voice or opinion has been heard.
    • Make sure that no one person's voice/opinion is heard too much including your own.
    • Encourage consensus up to a point. This does not mean that everybody has to agree as it wouldn't be much of a discussion if they did, but that people express their alternate opinions in constructive ways that open a point up for discussion rather than disrespectfully squashing the opposition!  
  • Try to be sure the meeting gets off to a good start by ensuring that everybody knows when and where it's taking place. It's always a good idea to call or email a couple of days ahead to remind people, with directions if you don’t always meet in the same location.
  • Allow a little time at the start of the meeting for people to say hello, possibly grab a snack and get their socializing done.
  • Now you need to get the meeting started and, if the group is newly formed or you think needs a refresher, remind them of the 'rules' of your book group and how much time you have to discuss the book. Suggestion: A minute or two reviewing the 'rules' of your group can be time well spent. If you or other members feel there has been a problem in earlier meetings (e.g. one person dominating the conversation or too much off-topic conversation), this is the appropriate time to remind people what was previously agreed, without it appearing to be a personal attack on an individual.
  • Get an initial reaction from people about the book. It's quite likely one or two might not have finished it (maybe they ran out of time or just found it tedious) – it's not a big deal, this is supposed to be fun, not a test. Having said that, if after a couple of meetings you find many people aren't finishing the books in time you might want to review the types of books you're reading and/or extend the time between meetings, or check whether the people who aren't finishing the books actually want to be part of the book club!
  • Whether you use an 'official' reading guide or think up your own discussion points, decide ahead of time where you want to start the discussion and which discussion points you really want to cover – this will help you keep the conversation on track and enable you to throw in a new question if the conversation lags, goes too far off topic, starts to repeat itself or gets too contentious. It is quite likely that you won't get through all the potential topics for discussion. If the conversation is flowing the chances are that the conversation will naturally expand from the original topic into other interesting areas. If you do feel the need to move the conversation on, look for a way to weave the next discussion point into the current conversation.
  • Don't be too rigid keeping people on topic. As Harold Bloom (one of America's leading literary critics) says, the purpose of a book is "to get in very close to a reader and try to speak directly to what it is that they either might want out of the book or might be persuaded to see… [to persuade the reader] that certain truths about himself or herself, which are totally authentic, totally real, are being demonstrated to the reader for the very first time" In other words, the person who appears to be off topic maybe finding a way to express and understand an experience in their own lives – so don't be too quick to redirect them!


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