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Discussion Meeting Moderation

 "We must not be rash. We must divorce ourselves from our prejudices and appeal to our higher reasoning. This is the speaking banana, everyone will get a chance to speak." - Tracy Jordan

It is often said that trying to organize freethinkers behind a common goal is a task akin to herding cats. Trying to get them to stay on topic at a discussion meeting can be a similar headache. Rather than deal with the constant chaos that will ensue at an unstructured discussion meeting, it makes sense to appoint one person to be a moderator who can guide the discussion should it go too far astray.

It's important to keep in mind that your group members will not stay on topic. Don't worry about that too much. While you want to keep the discussion somewhat structures, too much structure will frustrate your membership. Instead, a moderator can pose interesting questions that relate the discussion back to the topic when the group starts to go off on a tangent. If it becomes apparent that the meeting will be more vibrant and interesting if a change in subject is allowed, then feel free to do that.

What you don't want is for only a few people to dominate the discussion. This can happen far too easily in a freethought group, and it can cause new members to feel intimidated or nervous. A moderator can keep this from happening by prompting new attendees to speak up, or by interrupting people who seem to never have enough to say.

Choosing a Group Moderator:

  1. The moderator you choose should be familiar with the members of the group.
  2. It helps if your moderator has a good understanding of the types of issues you might discuss at your meetings.
  3. Try to find someone who is assertive but not rude. Your moderator needs to have the ability to interrupt people respectfully if necessary.

So You're a Moderator:

  1. A good way to keep people from talking over each other is to have people raise their hands when they have something to say. That way you can keep a mental queue of who gets to talk next.
  2. As weird it seems, the idea of the "Speaking Banana" is not so terrible, especially if you do not feel you are a particularly forceful moderator. Only the person who holds the banana (or whatever object you decide) is allowed to speak. This allows people to police themselves, and if you toss a bean bag or tennis ball to designate who speaks, it can add a fun element to your meetings.
  3. You should craft a list of questions to ask throughout the meeting that will stimulate discussion. Examples of the questions you can ask can be found within some of our Group Discussion Guides.

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