How to Start a Great Discussion

Just about everyone likes a great discussion, but getting it started seems to be the biggest problem. Have you ever been in a group, and even though the leader gives a valiant attempt to get the ball rolling, nobody seems to hop on? Have you ever been that leader?

Most people claim that asking “good questions” is the key for starting a good discussion. I disagree. Asking good questions is good, but other factors also play into whether or not those present will participate in the discussion. Some of these dynamics include:

What is the feeling tone of the group?

  • Check out one another?
  • Wait for someone else to go first?
  • Sure, let’s take a risk!
  • Are we looking for answers or just questions?  

Is it even a group yet?

  • Have we started?  
  • What are we doing?
  • What do we have in common?
  • Do we have any history together?

What other distractions are happening?

  • Nikki just showed up, and she’s dressed to kill!
  • Nobody is even leading us yet.
  • Laughter in the next group makes it better than ours.

What is the focal point?

  • Whoever is funny or clever.
  • There isn’t one; we’re just talking.
  • We have a task to do.
  • We have a person to follow.

On one particular mission trip I happened to have the deck of questions with me, so I decided to try it out to see how it worked. To my surprise, people demonstrated a much greater willingness, even an eagerness to participate in the discussion. They were saying things like, “Over here, pick me!”  I discovered that moving the question from me to a card depersonalized it for me, which made others more willing to personalize it themselves.

After I got home from that mission trip, I contacted AdventSource and asked them to produce a card deck of discussion questions on a variety of spiritual topics. That was the start of Q4U (Questions for You). A revised and expanded version came out in 2007.

I wondered if there were other ways of depersonalizing a question for the leader so participants to personalize it for themselves. Over the years I’ve utilized Out of the Hat as a discussion-starting device. I would collect questions of varying levels of depth and make printouts. I’d cut these in strips, fold each one, and place them in a paper bag because I usually didn’t have a hat available (or several hats when I led multiple groups). AdventSource has taken this idea and made it much more user-friendly. True to its name, the questions now come out of a literal hat! And they are coded by shape (round for light starters; square for deep questions; octagon for spiritual questions). And it all comes in one handy box! It seems like starting a great discussion has become fun, like a game, rather than a chore we’re supposed to do, like taking vitamins.

Speaking of games, another new spark plug for discussions is called Ready to Roll Discussion Starters. This has 12 cubes, with a topic on each cube. Since there are six sides to a cube, each cube has six questions or open-ended statements for that topic. Topics include friends, faith, fun, family, food, facts, finances, frustrations, faith, forgiveness, etc. Yes, each topic begins with the letter “F.” Just hand someone a cube and let them roll it. They can respond to what comes to the top. Roll it again for another person, or pick a different cube. Roll several and have several people respond. The variations are endless.

Just about everyone loves a great discussion. Make it less personal for the leader so it can be more personal for the participants. You can be the one to make it happen. Ready to start a great discussion?

Check out Steve Case's tools for starting discussions

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