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Group Discussion Guidelines

DISCUSSION METHODS: There are two basic types of discussion methods; the conference method and the workshop method. The conference method involves meetings of staff members, usually from the same organization, and is convened to pass on information, communicate management policies or decisions, or to solve organizational problems. These meetings are usually held for only one or two days, and generally consist of large discussion groups. The workshop method, on the other hand, is usually utilized when there are participants from a range of companies meeting for periods of longer than two days, for the purpose of devoting their attention to a specific problem or shared interest. The discussion groups tend to be small, and techniques such as role playing, case study, critical incident are commonly used.

GROUP DISCUSSION GUIDELINES: 1. Planning and Preparation. Research and prepare your lesson plans beforehand, just as you would for a lecture. Identify your objectives, and check for the availability of materials and training rooms. 2. Opening the Session. A good beginning, with opening comments carefully made and discussion objectives clearly defined, will eliminate misunderstanding and lay the groundwork for the session. 3. Presenting the Topic. Specifically define the purpose of the discussion. State the problem with the use of visual aids, then identify its importance for the participants. 4. Conducting the Discussion. During the course of the discussion, the trainer should try to encourage full trainee participation, and the greatest possible self-expression from each individual. It is helpful to ask pertinent, leading questions, as well as to give occasional summaries. You must listen carefully and attentively, for even a small lapse in attention may allow the conversation to move in the wrong direction. 5. Summarize the Discussion. At the end of the discussion, restate highlights that occurred during the course of the session. Paraphrase any conclusions.

TRAINING THROUGH GROUP DISCUSSIONS: In the end, the only certain way to learn the art of handling discussions is to try them for yourself - see what works and what doesn't, what seems to encourage new ideas and behavioral change and what serves only to use up your valuable time and that of trainees. The best guide for the beginner is to simply watch and listen, observe common rules of courtesy in speaking, and avoid an obviously manipulative role when you are influencing the course of the discussion. Once you have mastered the technique, you may find that you never want to use a lecture again!

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CEO, A.E. Schwartz & Associates, Boston, MA., a comprehensive organization which offers over 40 skills based management training programs. Mr. Schwartz conducts over 150 programs annually for clients in industry, research, technology, government, Fortune 100/500 companies, and nonprofit organizations worldwide. He is often found at conferences as a key note presenter and/or facilitator. His style is fast-paced, participatory, practical, and humorous. He has authored over 65 books and products, and taught/lectured at over a dozen colleges and universities throughout the United States.

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