Planning the Physical Location of People within the Group

What Should a Leader Do When –

L33 – Planning the Physical Location of People within the Group

1 The positioning (physical location) of Members can have a significant influence on encouraging or discouraging Members to talk to each other.

2 The following points assume a conference situation which has Group Members on at least three sides of a square, with the Conference Leader on the fourth side. A curved shaped would prove better*, but most Conference- Room furniture only allows a straight side so that, usually, at least three or four people sit side by side.

Communication Between Leaders and Participants

3 Leaders will more readily talk with, have an awareness of, and receive communications from, people in front of them – as compared with people to the side of them. Thus if they want to pay particular attention to one or more Members they have more chance if they place them in front of them rather than sit the Members at the side.

4 A quieter member who sits in front of them will usually get more of their attention.

5 If Leaders want to quieten some Members they can put them on either side of them — called the blind spot. The “blind spot” for Conference Leaders lies on either side of their right or left. This “blind spot” increases if Leaders move their chair and/or themselves towards the Group’s centre i.e. towards Participants opposite them. At that stage a Member in the blind spot will sit almost behind a Leader.

6 Thus, the closer Leaders put the person to them, the greater the oppor— tunity of decreasing their attention to this person.

7 If Leaders have a tendency to look more towards their left, then the position on their right constitutes a greater blind spot then the position on their left; and vicersa-versa.

Communication between Two Participants

8 Leaders who wish to decrease communication between two Participants (e.g. those who have a tendency to argue with each other or start side conversations) should put them on the same side of an open-square arrangement but not next to each other. That arrangement means they have less chance of seeing each other and therefore will talk less to each other.

9 Conversely, if Leaders wish to encourage two Participants to talk to each other, they should sit them so they face each other.

* The ideal physical arrangement for Conferences has seating so that all Members can see the face of all other Members. Straight sides mean that some people cannot see each other without moving forward.

A List of the Various Notes on Conference Leading and Participating.

A List of the Notes


A Broad View of Improving Conference Leading and Participating (3)[1]

Some Basic Parts and Processes of Conferences

Types of Meetings, Conferences, , and Contributions (9)

Some Additional Points on Contributions

An Example of Topics and Butterflying. (8)

A Basic Objective for any Conference: Consensus (5)

Some Important Elements in a Conference (8)

Some Important Parts and Processes of a Conference (7)

Stages in a Topic Discussion (25)

Some Common, Related, Discussion Topics (6)

Discussion Techniques

Discussion Techniques – Introduction (3)

Discussion Techniques – Asking Questions: Classes of Questions and when to use the Various Classes (15)
Discussion Techniques – Using the Group’s Questions and Statements and making Statements (4)

Discussion Techniques – Visual Aids (8)

Discussion Techniques – Physical Actions (2)

Discussion Techniques – Outside Distractions (2)

Planning Conferences

Planning the Conference – Broad Considerations (5)

Planning the Conference – Detailed Considerations (3)

Planning the Conference – Personal Preparation by the Leader (5)

Planning the Conference – How much Preparation should the Leader Do? (2)

Conference Leaders and Participants

The Qualities of an Effective Conference Leader (3)

Dealing with “Typical” Conference Participants (7)

Some Useful Techniques for Meetings including Conferences2

Gaining Group Acceptance (4)

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Seeking Unanimity at Meetings and Conferences (2)

A Straw Vote (1)

A Procedure for Selecting Some Items from a Larger List of Items (4)

Silence does not necessarily mean Agreement.


Evaluating the Conference (6)

Exercise – Conference Leading and Participation – Evaluation (4)

Classification of Contributions (22)

Meetings and Some Relationships between Meetings and Conferences

When should Organisations use a meeting (5)

What type of Meeting should a Group Use – Formal, Informal, or Semi Formal? (6)

Some Suggestions to Reduce the Problem: Meetings waste the time of Some Members3 (6)

Additional Notes on Conference Leading

How to chair meetings well (2)

How much time should a conference spend listening to the ideas of a minority on a particular objective?

Some Objectives for a Conference Leader.  (    )

A Role for your Conference Leader/Facilitator. (   )

Outline Points to help Improve Conference Leading. (2)

Description of a Conference Leader. (2  )

Exercise – Conduct an Assisted Conference on a previous Session and/or Exercise. ( 2 )

Observing Conferences

Practice in Observing a Conference – Seven different Roles for Observers to Play (7)


Activities to Improve a Group’s Effectiveness (7)

Another Set of Notes called “Some Ideas for Improving Meetings” exists. The notes in this other material take a similar detailed approach to the material mentioned in the previous footnote; however they concentrate on Formal Meetings.

Another Set of Notes called “Specific Techniques for Specific Situations” exists. It gives detailed help for a wide variety of situations which occur in Conferences (and Meetings).

[1] The numbers in brackets show the number of pages in the notes.

How much Time should a Conference spend on listening to the Ideas of a Minority on a particular Objectve

A Conference Leader should encourage more time to learn of, and discuss, minority views.

     (a)   the greater the influence the minority Members would have on whether the Organisation/Section would achieve the particular objective.

     (b) the greater the importance of the objectives.

    (c) the greater the amount of time available – in relation to other things to do inside and outside the meeting – at that particular time.

    (d) the greater the number of hidden reasons which exist and the greater the importance of these reasons to the Organisation. These hidden reasons would not necessarily relate to the particular objective under consideration. Thus one or more of the minority may have some hidden reasons for opposing a particular objective. It will prove important to establish these reasons. They might rate as important. If Conference Leaders do not know of their existence, the Leaders cannot evaluate how much time the group should spend on these reasons.

     (e) the greater the ramifications of the Decision/Objective on other Objectives of the Organisation. This factor includes precedence. If one part of an Organisation adopts a particular objective and it affects what happens in other parts of the organisation probably it deserves greater consideration time.

      (f) the greater the resentment the minority feel if they do not have the opportunity of putting forward their ideas. Sometimes simply giving the minority some time to put their ideas and for others to listen  to them will prove sufficient to obtain their cooperation.

2 Sometimes a minority Member opposes the majority simply because of the person with the idea.

     3 Example. Tom always tends to oppose the ideas of Dick because he does not like Dick. If a Leader and/or Group gives Tom time to talk they only waste the time because it will have no effect on Tom’s opinion or Dick’s opinion. No matter what Dick or Tom say to each other they will oppose each other. Thus in the case where the objective does not rate as important and Tom does not play a major part in achieving the objective, spending time on the objective will prove useless.



What Type of Meeting should a Group use – Formal, Informal, or Semi-Formal

Knowledge of Meeting Types will help to choose the right Type of Meeting for particular circumstances

1 Readers will make wiser decisions on the type of meeting to use, if they understand the advantages and disadvantages of various types of meetings.

Some Characteristics of Formal Meetings

2 Formal Meeting have a fairly fixed method of operating and use definite rules. People who attend these type of meeting gradually learn some of these rules. Fewer variations usually occur in these meetings as compared with the usual way less-formal Meetings operate. Thus they provide a useful starting point for considering various other types of meetings.

3 Formal Meetings use the rules of debate. The following discusses some of the rules:

     (a) One Member has to put forward (move) a positive action (motion) and have another Member second this motion (i.e. agree with the idea[1] ) before the Meeting can discuss the idea (motion).

     (b) Each Member can speak only once on any one motion, except for the Mover who can summarise their ideas (if they wish) to close the discussion.

     (c) Members who want to point out an error in the meeting’s procedure (point of order) can interrupt a Member and have their point settled – provided the Chairperson accepts the point as a procedural one.

     (d) A Member can interrupt a Member and suggest the Group closes (“gags”) the discussion by moving that “the motion be now put” (provided this Member has not already spoken to the motion). In most cases the Chairperson will take a vote on this procedure matter immediately. If passed, the Chairperson must then put the motion. (Some Chairpersons ignore the two-part aspect of this rule. When someone moves “the gag” they tend to put the motion under discussion rather than the “gag” motion.)

     (e) The Chairperson should conduct the meeting in a neutral way – they should not indicate any support for, or opposition to, any motion.

     (f) The Meeting deals with the items in the order laid down in the Agenda – unless the Group passes a motion to change the order. Anyone can move to change the order of later items – at the close of any item.

Some Advantages of Formal Meetings

4 Formal meetings have the advantages that definite procedures exist and many Members have (or soon learn) a rough idea of these procedures. Usually they respect the need to keep to the procedures – especially if the Chairperson and/or other Members remind them.

5 Compared with a Group which has no procedure, the use of Formal- Meeting Procedures tends to increase the chance that the Meeting will make some decisions. Motions will exist and people will agree that the majority decision[2] will mean that the Group has passed a particular motion. However the procedure does not guarantee that the Meeting will achieve high-quality decisions.

Some Disadvantages of Formal Meetings

6 The procedures laid down sometimes “strangle” a Group on the rules of debate. A Group may need to decide on something on which insufficient individual thought has occurred and a more-productive procedure would involve a discussion on the matter where one person can speak more than once on a topic.

7 A free group discussion allows: (a) exploration of various aspects of a motion (especially if particularly complex) and (b) the Group to consider a more complex but wider set of ideas.

8 The need to put a formal motion sometimes restricts the structure of a discussion.

     9 Examples A Group needs to decide what time to start its regular meeting. Someone moves that they start at 6.00 pm. A number of people favour a different time. Four people out of the ten Members vote for 6.00 pm; six people vote against it. Thus the voting means the motion fails.

10 The Chairperson then accepts another motion on the topic. Someone moves for a 7.00 pm start. Six people vote for 7.00 pm – thus passing the motion for a 7.00 pm start.

11 However a group discussion of the situation might have discovered that a greater number would have preferred to start at some other time – say 6.30 or 7.30.

12 A group discussion and the recording of the possibilities favoured by all Members would have shown all possibilities. Straw votes could have decided the most favoured time by a series of stages. The Group could approach the most- favoured decision by a series of splits along the lines of – who wants to start any time 6.30 or earlier. If the majority favour that idea the Group then has a definite time span within which to make a choice. Further split voting can reduce the time span still further. For example: “Who wants to start before 6.00 pm?”

13 In this case, the formal-motion approach hid the detailed desires of the Group. Further a Member might prefer 5.30 but next prefer 7.30. Thus he votes against 6.00 pm and against 7.00 pm. Then he finds the Group has decided on 7.00 pm and he does not know how many might have supported either of his favoured times.

14 A Member in a formal debate may speak early. Then she hears someone else speaking and thinks of an entirely different reason for opposing (or supporting) what she has said previously. However she has no right to put this idea before the Meeting. It could happen that no-one else has thought of her particular point and the Meeting would have made a far wiser decision if people had become aware of the particular point.

Formal Meetings cannot “Change Their Mind” within the one Meeting

15 One rule of formal meetings states that once the Meeting passes a motion it cannot reverse its decision within the same meeting. This point illustrates another weakness of formal meetings.

     16 Example. A Meeting passes a particular motion. However someone thinks of a particular problem or idea which suggests they should do something different. If the meeting uses the formal rules of debate then one person can stop the change. This person only has to point out that the Meeting has not right under its own rules (formal) to change the motion 

When Formal Meetings will have more Advantages than Informal Meetings

17 The advantages of a Formal Meeting will vary according to the knowledge Members have of its rules and their skill in using such rules.

18 Conference Participants skilled in participating well in a discussion will have a higher probability of achieving an effective Meeting or Conference if they do not use the formal rules of debate. However unless people have had some training in Conference Participation (along the lines suggested in other  notes) probably they will not accept that view. Only when they see a Conference using appropriate techniques and with skilled Participants will they appreciate the possibilities which skilled training in Conference Participation will produce in a Conference.

19 However, given the fact that most people have very little (if any) training in Conference Participation, Formal Meetings will often produce more results than Non-Formal Conferences. Nevertheless it will not prove easy to make a useful comparison. Formal Meetings will produce results and decisions but any real assessment of the value of different types of meetings should include the wisdom of the decisions made; i.e. the quality of the decisions, not just the quantity.

Most Meetings use a Semi-Formal Approach

20 Deciding on the best type of meeting has even more complexities than those already discussed. In practice few Meetings really use a complete Formal-Meeting approach. Invariably, in watching so-called Formal Meetings, an Observer would find that many variations exist.

     21 Examples. Quite often the Chairperson will remain neutral but strongly influence the Meeting to decide things in a certain way. Such Chairpersons will: suggest motions, indicate support or disagreement with a particular motion, try to persuade others to their own viewpoint, and even refuse to accept ideas from Members.

22 Often Leaders or one or more Participants will make use of the Formal-Meeting procedure when it suits them but ignore it when it does not.

23 Sometimes the Conference Members (or some of them) will become aware of the situation. Some may have a vague feeling that something does not appear to work well but they will have difficulty in suggesting specific additions, or deletions, to improve things.

A common Problem - the Chairperson equals the Chief Executive, President, etc.

24 In many cases the Chairperson of the Formal Meeting will also have a position in an Organisation which puts them in charge of the people attending the Meeting. Under these circumstances they will have little chance of influencing the Chairperson’s behaviour – if they want to reject such attempts.

25 They will increase their chances of influencing the Chairperson if they all become more knowledgeable about how Conferences operate and make a concerted effort to point out to the Official Leaders that they have “forgotten” various procedures. However probably it will take a fairly consistent and persistent approach by at least the majority of the Members to achieve much.

26 Thus the semi-formal meeting (a meeting which uses formal meeting procedures on some occasions) does not provide the advantages of a free discussion at all on many occasions. Often Members feel frustrated and the decision-making capacity of the Group (as compared with the Chairperson) becomes relatively low.

27 An exception occurs when the Chairperson does not feel strongly on a particular point. Under these circumstances the meeting can really discuss the matter. However will the Group recognise this situation? If they do, will they have the spirit or desire to put forward an effort which on previous occasions has proved of little value.

Meetings can formally vote to stop using the formal Rules of Debate

28 Members who find themselves in a situation using formal or semiformal approaches should remember the possibility of moving a motion which calls for discarding the rules of debate and allowing a round- table discussion on a particular problem for a given amount of time. Thus the Meeting “closes” in a formal sense for a given period of time and the Group can gain the advantages of an informal discussion.

Informal Meetings will usually function better if they use “Straw Votes”

29 In general, provided people know how to get the best out of a group discussion, an informal discussion will prove of most benefit. However this statement will prove true only if the Chairperson (Conference Leader) takes votes on appropriate matters at appropriate times. Thus they will use a straw vote quite regularly. A straw vote allows Members to indicate to other Members their present feelings about a particular situation without necessarily denying themselves the right to make further comments and to change their voting later. The straw vote indicates to everyone just how they should best arrange the next contributions on the particular topic because they know who tends to support or oppose various ideas and the size of each group.

30 It allows a Group to get agreement on parts of a motion without going through the detail of agreement or disagreement of a final nature with a particular motion.

[1] The Rules allow a “pro-forma” second - the Member supports the idea “for the sake of form” to allow discussions to take place.

[2] The procedure of some Meetings requires more than 50% for some decisions. For example, the expulsion of a Member might require two-thirds majority to pass such a motion.

When should Organisations use a Meeting

The Meaning of “Meeting” as used in these Notes

1 These notes use the following definition of a meeting: a group of people who can communicate orally with each other at the same time where, at least, one person achieves communication with the others.

2 These notes only consider meetings of three or more people.

Aids to deciding When, and How, to use Meetings

3 Readers may wish to skim over the next sections. They discuss the objectives of meetings and the advantages, disadvantages, and pitfalls of the various classes of meetings. The final section on Recommendations should prove most valuable.

4 A Reader who does not understand and/or has doubts about a particular recommendation may find more understanding and/or fewer doubts by reading parts of the earlier sections.

Broad Objectives for Meetings

5 A meeting can aim to pass information:

     (a) From one Member to other Meeting Members. This “one Member’ has often called the Meeting and will often have the role of Official Leader.

      (b) From other Meeting Members to one Member.

    (c) In both directions i.e. a two-way flow occurs which deserves the term “discussion”.

6 Some variations exist within these three classes. They depend on -

     (a) the number of people in each receiving and/or sending group and

     (b) any restrictions placed on who can send information and to whom.

7 The following sections give more information about different types of meetings (as classified by the meeting objectives listed above)

More Details on the Objectives of Meetings

Pass Information from one Member to Other Members

8 Information passing gives one possible reason for having a meeting. If one person wants to give information to two other people usually it will save time to tell both people together rather than talk to each person separately.

Make Decisions

19 Another class of meeting exists where Meeting Members aim to make decisions at the Meeting. Sometimes an Organisation structure exists which specifies that a group of people have the job of making certain decisions.

     20 Examples. A Board of Directors, New Product Development Committee, Council of an Institute, Parliament.

21 Where a group of people have to make a decision usually they need to meet together. [1]

22 Where an Organisation has such a structure, a Meeting must occur if one or more Members want to ensure they take part in the decision- making.

Persuade Others

23 A common variation within a Meeting to exchange information occurs where one or more Members wish to persuade one or more other Members to accept a given viewpoint.

Gain Acceptance of One of More Objectives

24 Sometimes people who call Meetings aim to gain the greatest amount of acceptance from the group. This situation occurs when they believe that the attitude of Meeting Members will play a part in the skill and enthusiasm, etc., they will use to try to implement a given decision.

General Comments

25 Many Organisations have regular meetings of the same group of people.

     26 Example. A New-Products Committee Meeting in a Company, a Board of Directors, the Membership Sub-committee of a Golf Club.

27 Sometimes these groups meet together to make decisions.

      28 Examples. “Will we continue to develop Product X?” “Who will we appoint as our next Managing Director?” “Will we declare a dividend – and what size?” “Will we admit Mr. Smith as a Member of our Golf Club?”

29 In other cases they meet together to monitor a situation by receiving reports from various people.

     30 Example. (a) The Head of the Social Committee reports on the arrangements for the coming Annual Dinner to the General Committee. (b) The Board hears the progress on the plans for a new factory. (c) The New Product Committee hears the results of the Market Research on Product X


31 The following sections list some objectives for deciding whether to use a meeting and how to use wisely a particular type. These notes classify them under the broad objectives for meetings used in previous sections.

Information Giving

32 Consider whether a written communication will pass on information more economically.

33 Consider the time spent in (a) preparing a written communication to give information as compared with (b) preparing to communicate to a group of people.

34 Consider to what extent the Receivers of the written communication will read it, understand it, and communicate back any point they do not under stand. (But will people at Meetings tell Senders they do not understand them?)

35 Consider whether other people at a later time will need to receive the same information.

     36 Example. The Organisation policy on granting credit. The procedure to use in recording Annual Leave due and taken. Each new person coming to work in the relevant Department will need this type of information. Thus the preparation of such a written communication will prove useful for a number of different occasions when different people need to get the information it contains.

37 Check which people need which information. Consider the possibilities of arranging the sequence of giving information so that some Members can leave the meeting when they have received all the information related to their needs.

38 Check what people have to give up if they want to attend a particular Meeting.

39 Create an atmosphere where people will inform Meeting Organisers of the problems caused by attending a given meeting at a particular time.

40 Consider the cost and time involved in each person attending a particular Meeting.

41 Consider whether each person can make more use of the travelling time to do other useful things at the place of the Meeting before and/or after the Meeting.

Information Gathering

42 Warn people of the information they should provide for a particular Meeting.

43 Check that the vital Members (the Givers of the information) can attend and intend doing so.

44 Check whether relevant people could/should write the information and distribute it to appropriate people instead of a Meeting or before the Meeting.

45 Check what other ways exist of gathering the information. Compare the cost/time involved of the various methods.

46 Check whether the information givers will need stimulation of other people to recall some of the information required.

47 Consider whether people at a Meeting will gather more useful information because discussion will stimulate Members to: (a) ask more useful questions, (b) give more useful answers, and (c) find/collect more useful ideas.

Make Decisions

48 Consider whether a group at a meeting will make wiser decisions than just individual decision making – even if several individuals check each other’s individual decision making.

Persuade Others

49 Consider whether having a group of people meet together will help or hinder persuading one or more Members to agree to some particular idea, objectives, etc.

Gain Acceptance

50 Consider whether a meeting will gain greater acceptance of an objective and increase the probability of achieving the relevant objective and/or with fewer resources.

[1] Probably they could decide something by passing information around. However it would prove rare.

A Straw Vote and its Advantages

A Meaning for Straw Vote

1 A straw vote aims to obtain an indication of the current attitude to a particular topic from all Members of a group. Like a straw thrown into the air it shows the general direction of the wind the general attitude of a group.

Not a Commitment or Final Vote

2 In taking a straw vote, the group should understand clearly that it does not bind any Member. They should not see it as – (a) a final vote or (b) committing themselves to voting in the same way if the group takes one or more other votes.

3 Further, Members should not see their straw vote as something which they need to defend to other Members of the group. The straw vote aims to obtain an approximate indication of the present feelings of the group towards a particular topic without the need to explain the reason for so voting.

Knowledge of each Other’s Ideas helps to obtain better Group Discussions

4 The following principle underlies a straw vote – a group will function more efficiently if each Group Member knows the mind of each other person in the group with respect to the topic under discussion.

5 This knowledge allows both Conference Leader and Conference Participants to decide how best the next part of the discussion should proceed.

6 Sometimes groups discuss a particular item for a given time without realising that most people (or even everyone) favours a particular approach. These people may simply want some particular information. Once they get the information, they may agree with everyone else. A straw vote helps everyone learn this information and then individual Members can aim to persuade other people to agree with them.

Hearing Minority Viewpoints usually increases the Number of Points discussed

7 The straw vote establishes quickly just who has a minority view. This information allows any Conference Participant to ask for reasons and viewpoints from the minority.

8 When the majority hears the minority viewpoint they often hear some different ideas. These may or may not change minds as to the correctness of their previous views. However often a more-effective discussion occurs because it includes more points in any given time period.

Gaining Group Acceptance


1 Many situations call for group acceptance of decisions, objectives, plans, etc. However Executives should make sure they have real acceptance – not just an agreement to their face and disagreement and disruption behind their back.

2 In general, research and experience suggest that a greater chance of true group acceptance exists if the group concerned participates in the decision. A conference provides a good opportunity to gain such group participation and to test, through group discussion, the degree of group acceptance.

Gaining Group Acceptance - A difficult, complex, but often essential, Task

3 The difficulty of obtaining Group acceptance will vary with the ideas held by the Group at the beginning of the conference. Members may have: (a) few or no ideas on the topic, (b) some ideas but not strongly held or (c) very definite ideas. In the latter case, if the ideas oppose the ones which the Leader desires them to hold, the Leader’s task will prove difficult.

4 Gaining the Group’s acceptance provides a most complex task. These notes cannot hope to do more than introduce the subject and give a few general approaches.

5 No matter how difficult the task, many Executives quite often must try to change the attitudes and gain Group acceptance during a conference. Consideration of this problem should increase the chances of overcoming it.

6 The following approaches should help Leaders gain group acceptance; however they will not prove successful on all occasions.

Planning and the different Stages of a Conference

7 A Conference which aims to achieve group acceptance requires careful planning. If Planners distinguish certain stages of the conference process it should help their planning.

8 First, the introductory stage occurs. The discussion aims to define the subject and/or set the problem and the limits of discussion. At this stage, usually, Leaders should make it clear to the Group the extent to which they will make any decisions.

9 Where the objective involves acceptance of one or more decisions, one approach involves informing the Group that they will make the decision(s). This information sets the stage for the greatest possible participation. However, such an approach will sometimes prove impossible. Further, Leaders should not make such a statement unless true.

10 The second stage involves general discussion where the Members gather facts and evaluate them.Here a group-centred discussion will tend to prove best whereas the previous stage must use mainly a leader- centred approach.

11 The third stage involves acceptance of the ideas discussed in the previous stage. Leaders should test carefully Group acceptance. A mainly leader-centred discussion will prove most appropriate.

12 Leaders should check acceptance indirectly – by asking appropriate questions and seeking opinions of individuals. They can check directly by asking whether anyone in the Group disagrees. However – will Participants answer honestly?

13 A conference might need to repeat the second and third stages several times. It will usually move in stages by getting agreement on smaller matters (sub objectives) which will advance it to agreement on the overall (= end) objective.

14 Once a group achieves the overall objective, Leaders have reached the stage of summing up. They should summarise to help reinforce acceptance and again check on the Group’s acceptance.

15 Probably, Conference Members will not become aware of separate stages in a conference, since the movement from one to another does not usually occur in a definite or obvious fashion. However, for Leaders planning a conference, the concept of a conference passing through various stages should assist them to understand conferences better and learn how to achieve group acceptance.

16 While this overall viewpoint gives some assistance, other ideas exist which will assist in the more-detailed operation of conferences. The following paragraphs briefly discuss a few.

The Power of Participation

17 Members who contribute to the general discussion which helps decide the end result will probably feel a sense of ownership in the final decision. Thus they will tend to accept it and carry it out more readily.

The Influence of the Group

18 A group will often prove quite powerful in swaying the opinions of one or two dissenting Members. Most people like others to accept them. Thus approval of others rates as important. Wise Leaders will let other Group Members convince Dissenters and show such people that they have the wrong approach –  rather than point it out themselves. Most Participants find it easier to maintain opposition to a Leader’s ideas than ideas which all or most other Participants support.

The Leader’s Influence

19 Provided Leaders introduce them carefully, new facts will help to influence the discussions. However this approach will not always prove successful. Leaders should take care that they give facts and not just their opinion – especially when Participants begin to realise they represent opinions.

20 Leaders should watch the problem of surface acceptance. Apparent agreement may come about simply because Leaders present an idea; outside the conference the Group may discard it.

21 Leaders should handle the conference so that the Participants do not feel inferior. They should aim to have the Group feel the Leader has a place within the Group. The terms “we” and “ours” will probably prove more acceptable than “I” and “mine”.

Leaders should aim for real and (preferably) Unforced Participation

22 Leaders should take care not to put dissenting Members into a position where they take a stand on a particular topic. Once they take a stand it will often prove difficult for them to withdraw or change without “losing face”.

23 Group acceptance has a higher probability of occurring where real participation by all Members exists – not just by the most vocal or aggressive.

Move from Areas of Acceptance to Areas of Non-Acceptance

24 Leaders will usually find they can achieve more acceptance if they move from areas of acceptance towards those where disagreement exists.

Other Points

25 Usually – gaining group acceptance will become more difficult as the similarity of Participants decreases. Where people have varying background they will perceive things in a different way. Points and ideas which prove acceptable to some will make no impression on others.

26 The more time available, the greater the likelihood of success. In many situations Leaders will find they cannot afford to hurry acceptance.

27 Leaders should give assistance and the greatest opportunity to contribute to those with the most appropriate ideas. This approach will give those who favour a Leader’s objective a chance to contribute on the Leader’s behalf. They may convince other Participants without obvious efforts by the Leader. However Leaders should temper this approach with the need to give participation to all. 


28 In general, all the techniques of Conference Leading will aid in achieving group acceptance. Skilful Leaders will know how best to use questions which come from the Group, how to phrase questions and statements by themselves and so on. Probably gaining Group acceptance in a skilful manner provides the most difficult test of successful Conference Leading.

Discussion Techniques – Introduction

Some Major Discussion Techniques.

1 Conference Members have a number of different techniques that they can use to try to influence a discussion. These include –

     (a) Asking Questions.

     (b) Making Statements.

     (c) Using Visual Aids.

     (d) Physical Actions.

     (e) Using Other Members’ Contributions.

2 The following paragraphs discuss these techniques briefly so that Readers can have an overall view. Later notes discuss them in more detail.

Asking Questions

3 All discussions include questions. All Conference Members will ask questions. However many people have given little thought to the activity. Yet a question’s topic, phrasing, and/or timing will often decide whether a particular question influences a discussion.

4 Some questions will do much to influence the thinking and actions of others – both inside and outside a Conference.

     5 Example. “Why?” probably provides the most penetrating question. People who cannot satisfactorily explain why they want to do something offer others the chance to influence them. If such people have never attempted to answer this question before they may not have realised that they do not have a good reason for doing the “something”

Making Statements

6 As well as asking questions, Members can also make a statement. These statements could include –

     (a) Giving an order (instruction).

     (b) Offering Advice.

     (c) Giving Information (Answering a Question).

7 All these types of contributions can influence a discussion.

     8 Examples. Tom, stop interrupting and let Joan finish her idea. (Order). I suggest we stop discussing this topic any further. (Advice). I did riot receive a copy of the Conference Agenda.(Information).

Using Visual Aids

9 In broad terms, a visual aid describes any written or non-spoken contribution that one or more Conference Members can see.

10 A visual aid, such as written words or a diagram can help keep the group’s attention focused on a particular point. Sometimes it will explain something more easily than oral words will.

     11 Examples.A map or diagram shows the relationship of one part to another more easily than a word description. An actual product will communicate much more than someone’s word description of it. The writing of points for and against a particular decision on a Blackboard will help the Group remember these points and weigh one argument against the other. 

Physical Actions

12 Members can communicate by specific movements of their body or one of its parts (e.g. holding up two fingers indicates “two”). The expression on a face, the way someone sits in a chair, standing up – all provide examples of physical actions

13 Physical action can ask a question (e.g. a questioning look) or provide information (e.g. a Member goes to sleep) or give advice (a frown)

14 Overall, physical actions include all unspoken communications. Visual Aids deserve the term unspoken”. However, for clearness of classification, this section excludes them from the class “physical actions”.

Using other Members’ Contribution

15 Members have many ways to deal with another Member’s contribution. They vary from (a) ignoring it to (b) trying to answer in detail the question or point raised by another Member to (c) encouraging another Member to contribute on the point raised – and many other variations.

Discussion Techniques – for the Leader or for all Members?

16 Probably most people would think of the above techniques as mostly concerning a Conference Leader. However, these notes emphasise that all Conference Members have important roles to play in achieving effective Conferences. Thus, all Members will increase the probability of playing their roles well if they understand and know how, and when, to use the various techniques introduced in these notes.

17 Every Member can, and should, (a) ask questions and (b) make statements orally and through physical actions. However, Leaders will tend to use Visual Aids more than most Members, especially where they have to plan how a Conference will achieve its objectives and/or what information Members
will need to have an effective Conference.

18 Official Conference Leaders should behave more actively to influence the way a group deals with contributions from other Members – as compared with other Members.

     19 Examples. The Leader should think more about: (a) encouraging the quieter Members to contribute; (b) discouraging the over-talkative; and (c) identifying, and requesting comments from Members with useful knowledge on particular topics.

Discussions – Complex Situations

20 The above discussion lists five techniques. Some Readers might think that mostly a Member only has to decide between Asking a Question and Making a Statement.

21 However the complexity of discussions soon become obvious when considering such questions as: What type of question? On what topic? What type of Statement – Information, Advice, or Order? On what topic? How many points should I put in each statement or question? Should I make a statement and ask a question – or vice versa? Will I encourage another Member (or Members) to ask a question and/or make a statement? Whom should I encourage?

22 These points and the complexity of discussions will become clearer in the later notes that deal with discussion techniques in more detail.

Discussion Techniques – Visual Aids

1 Visual Aids consist of written contributions for use in a conference. They might involve writing on boards (black and/or white) and/or some type of paper[1] and/or cardboard, notes, and any other methods of recording something in a visual form (e.g. models, film strips, overhead projectors, videos, films)

2 Visual Aids aim to assist conferences by achieving the following objectives:

     (a) Appeal to another sense – which assists learning

     (b) Highlight and summarise information

  (c) Show inter-relationships in a way which would prove impossible with oral contributions, (e.g. graphs, string diagrams, flow charts)

          (d) Act as a guide to a conference discussion

     (e) Keep the objective of the discussion and/or conference continually before Conference Members.

3 In summary , Visual Aids help the interchange of ideas by making some ideas easier to understand and remember.

4 Sometimes films, film strips, and similar information-giving techniques (e.g. a lecture) provide a topic for discussion rather than act in as Visual Aids. Thus a conference objective sometimes involves discussing a film or lecture. From one viewpoint the film or lecture does not rate as part of the conference; it merely provides the discussion topic.

When can Conference Members prepare Visual Aids?

5 Conference Members can prepare a Visual Aid (a) before and/or (b) during a conference.

6 They can use some classes of visual aids in either way (e.g. blackboard, paper); others will only prove suitable for one approach.

     7 Examples. Film Strip and Films apply to the before class. Video-taping of the Conference Members at the conference can only occur during the conference.

8 The following sections discuss common visual aids and their uses, limitations, advantages, and disadvantages.

Blackboards and Whiteboards

9 A blackboard and/or whiteboard provides a flat surface on which a Conference Member can place written material in a form which all the Conference Members can read. Thus all Members have access to the material – an important element to encourage Members to use the material during the discussion.

10 However the readability depends on: (a) an appropriate location of the Board in relation to Conference Members and (b) an appropriate size (and sometimes colour) for the written material, and (c) the clearness of any writing.

11 A Conference Organiser can provide boards placed on easels or use a room which has one or more boards on the wall.

12 Boards provide a surface which allows the easy recording and cleaning off of written material. Easy alteration and amendment of the material plus their re-use for other material provide one of their major advantages over other visual aids.

13 They do not aim to provide a permanent place for the written material.

14 They have their greatest use for recording material during a conference; but anyone can record material before the start of the conference. However this approach means part or all of the board becomes unusable for the period the material stays on the board.

15 Sometimes the initial material only aims to set the stage for a Conference. Thus the Conference Leader can remove it after the conference starts. Sometimes the conference does not need to use the board much and Members can use the introductory material throughout the Conference.

16 Boards have limited space[2]. Thus Users will often benefit if they spend time planning just where they will put what on the board.

17 Whiteboards represent an improvement to blackboards to some people. Writing with water or solvent-based “pens” avoids the problem of chalk dust. However the need for correct solvent to clean up the board sometimes proves a little troublesome. Thus whiteboards do not offer quite the same simplicity as cleaning off chalk.

18 Certainly “dustless” chalk has decreased chalk dust, but it has not eliminated it.

19 A new whiteboard now exists which provides photocopies of the material written on the board. Because it works on a roller principle it provides more space than a standard whiteboard. It also allows conferences to keep whatever Writers have recorded on the board. Thus this device provides much more flexibility but at a much higher cost.


20 Paper provides a cheaper less-permanent material for recording ideas, information, etc. Paper also offers a more-easily portable medium. Thus Conference Members can easily bring pre-prepared material to various conferences. Anyone can display the material recorded on paper. They can “hang” it on the wall by using cellulose tape.

21 The terms “butcher paper” and “chart pads” often refer to paper used for conferences.

22 For the recording of material, paper needs a flat firm surface. Hence conferences often use a board (black or white) in combination with paper. If the board rests on an easel then a Member can hang paper and turn it over and/or show different pages as relevant to the needs of the conference. But showing a page of paper reduces the amount of space available on the board.

23 Paper provides a lot more space than boards. Members can rip off pages and put them aside or display them around the walls of the conference room.

24 Cardboard provides a similar medium to paper. Cardboard rates as harder to transport or hang, but easier to stand up and less liable to damage by tearing. Depending on the thickness of the cardboard a Writer needs less backing.

Boards and Paper in Non-Training Conferences

25 Most Trainers use boards and/or paper in Training Conferences. However these items will help Business Conferences in some circumstances – especially if well used.

26 Where Leaders use a diagram or chart as a reference point to aid communication between Conferees, the use of such a visual aid will help business conferences to achieve their objectives more easily.

     27 Examples.The consideration of a new factory layout or a new building or a proposal to alter the flow of paperwork in an office.

28 The building up of a chart to record decisions reached at various stages or on various topics will assist Conference Members to remember the decisions made and where the discussions stand in relation to the overall objective of the Business Conference

29 Most Managers who install a Board and/or a Chart Pad arrangement in their office find it often helps them to communicate better.

A Comparison of Boards and Paper as Visual Aids

30 Boards have very similar advantages and uses to those of chart pads (paper) . Boards have more limited space but alter more easily. Members would tend not to use Boards for putting up material before the conference begins, especially where they could use such a visual aid f or more than one conference.

31 Where Members want to provide a pre-prepared visual they will probably not use a Board unless they only have a small amount of material which would fit easily on the Board space available. If Members wish to use the material in more than one Conference they should use a more permanent visual aid e.g. Paper, Notes, and Overhead Projector Transparencies. (Later sections discuss Overhead Projectors.)


32 The term “notes” covers any written material on paper where all Conference Members receive their own copy. Notes can consist of virtually anything – a graph, outline points on a subject, a report, detailed notes on a subject, a diagram, photographs, meeting agenda, or list of points for discussion.

33 Unlike Boards or Paper, all Members can have their own copy of notes. They provide a permanent record and limitless space. Additions prove easy to make, although alterations prove a little more difficult.

34 Any Conference Member can issue notes before the conference starts so that other Members can study them before the conference. However each Member will give a different amount of time to studying the notes and the absorption and understanding of their content will vary. Some people will give no time to such preparation. In this case the Issuer of the notes will not achieve the objective of pre-conference thought on the topics covered by the notes.

35 If Members receive notes during a conference the temptation exists to read them during the conference. A Leader should reduce the temptation by asking Conferees to keep such notes turned over.

36 In conferences, where Members may want to take notes of the ideas discussed, a Leader should advise Members if they will get notes later. Then Conferees do not waste time taking notes. In any case, the taking of notes during a discussion will often restrict the note-taker from taking part in the conference.

The Uses of Group Visuals and Individual Notes compared

37 Conference Members can retain notes as a permanent record.

38 Group Visuals help to keep the group’s attention on the one thing. With notes, Members often take an interest in different parts of the notes.

39 Each Member can add to notes – according to their own interest as the discussion proceeds.

40 Any visual material prepared during a conference can become the basis for Notes issued later – provided someone (or some device3) copies the material written on the Boards and/or the Chart pads.

Overhead Projector

41 An overhead projector projects on to a screen the material on a transparent sheet placed on top of the projector. It performs a similar function to that of a slide projector. However preparing transparencies proves easier than preparing slides. Transparencies require no reduction from their original size – about quarto size.

Advantages of the Overhead Projector. 

42 Anyone using an Overhead Projector can use pre-prepared material at a moment’s notice – to display the material or not to display it. 015- players do not need a Pointer to point to the parts on the Board. They use a pencil to point to the parts on the transparency and the shadow of the pencil appears on the screen.

43 The system allows one transparency to overlay another. Therefore Displayers can build up information gradually (e.g. display one line on a graph then display another line) . They can disclose just whatever additional information they choose.

44 Further, by covering some of the transparency, they can emphasise certain parts and/or stop people looking at material they do not want them to consider at a particular time. Note that a device exists, If consists of a roller whiteboard and the device copies and reduces whatever appears on the board on to a sheet. It provides whatever number of copies required. In essence, it combines a whiteboard and photocopier which can reduce the size of the material copied.

45 Anyone can prepare transparencies quite easily – by simply using the appropriate marking devices. They can hand write or typewrite the material.

46 This visual aid will prove suitable for preparing syndicate reports. However (as compared with paper displayed for all to see) Syndicate Members cannot very easily look at the transparency during preparation. With displayed paper, all Syndicate Members can immediately see just what the Writer has written – and agree or disagree. (This point assumes that each syndicate does not have an overhead projector functioning.)


47 Overhead projectors cost more than chart paper. The transparencies cost more than stencils for duplicating notes or photocopying.

48 Conference Leaders prepare material that they wish to display on overhead projectors but often find Conference Members want copies of the material. In this context one approach suggests: If the material rates as sufficiently important to prepare a transparency then it usually rates as sufficiently important for each Member to have a copy. Therefore it will provide more useful and less expensive for someone to prepare a stencil, duplicate copies or photocopy the material and distribute it to all Members4. Instead of showing something at the front of the Group everyone has their own copy on which they can make additional notes if they wish.

49 The white screen necessary for an overhead projector offers further visual distraction if people look in its direction. Since Leaders usually have the screen behind them this situation occurs fairly often. This point applies particularly if the overhead projector projects its white light on to the screen, Conference Leaders should remember to switch off the projector when not in use.

Film Slides and Strips.

50 A Film Slide or Strip plus a Projector and Screen allows the projection on the screen of whatever visual someone has pre-prepared for a conference.

51 A visual using this type of aid will usually cost more to prepare and require more expensive equipment than say a Board or Paper.

52 However its use suggests that someone wants a more carefully presented visual.

53 Film Slides or Strips take less storage room than Chart Pads and rate as harder to damage. They transport more easily in most cases than material on Paper or Cardboard.
Readers should realise that the Writer has a particular bias which favours the handing out of material rather than the use of overhead projectors.

54 Training Conferences will tend to use this type of visual much more often than Business Conferences.

Moving Films

55 Films provide both sound and visual material.

56 They can provide very clear explanations of ideas. Diagrams prove particularly useful in showing the working parts of e.g. a machine.

57 However, like all Visual Aids, their clearness and usefulness will depend on the Preparer.

58 Like Film Strips, moving films apply more often to Training Conferences.

Video-Tape Recorder

59 Video tape recorders allow the recording of pictures of one or more parts of a conference. Leaders will use them mostly for Training Conferences.

     60 Example.A TV camera can record people taking part in a sales situation or a counselling discussion. Replaying the recording allows the Members to see and hear how they have acted.

61 The cost of video taping equipment make it one of the most expensive methods of preparing a visual aid (except moving films) . However it offers the only appropriate visual for some training objectives.

      62 Example.See what you look like when handling a particular (sales) situation or playing a particular sport.

A Check List to consider when using (most) Visual Aids

63 Does the visual aid have an objective? People should not prepare a visual aid unless it will add something to the conference and thus assist the Group. People can spend much time and money on visual aids which actually contribute very little to the effectiveness of the discussion and which do not greatly assist in learning.

64 At what stage should Conferees see each Visual Aid?

65 Should the User display the whole Visual or reveal different sections at appropriate times? (Lecturers use this gradual disclosure approach; it will help some conferences – especially of the “directed” type 5)

A directed conference occurs when the official Leader has the decision or outcome already decided before the conference starts and/or tries to get the group to agree to a pre-decided objective.

66 Has the User of the chart made himself familiar with it? Should Users practise with them before a conference starts?

67 Can all Members see the Visuals clearly?

68 Does the User obscure the view of any Member by standing or sitting in front of the Visual?

69 Can Members understand the Visual?

70 Does the Visual look crowded and/or have too much information on it?

71 Should the Visual use different colours. Can Audiences see the colours well in both the night and day light?

72 Does the Visual use familiar terms?

73 Do Users explain the Visual in the words used on it when it would prove better to use their own words in making an explanation?

74 Would a visual display help a Member direct attention to specific points, new terms, and the spelling of (new) words.

75 Should Users use a pointer to indicate specific parts of the Visual?

76 Would a pre-prepared Visual Aid help significantly to achieve the objectives of a “directed” conference6.

77 Would a visual aid (e.g. recording of points on the blackboard) prepared during the Conference help the Group to remember the points discussed?

78 Will such a Visual help Conferees to refer to them in later discussions?
A directed conference occurs when the official Leader has the decision or outcome already decided before the conference starts and/or tries to get the group to agree to a pre-decided objective.

[1] The white paper used by butchers to wrap up meat provides a useful source of inexpensive “chart” paper; hence the term - “butcher paper”.

[2] The roller board provides a part-exception to this statement. For a given wall area, the continuous roll of board materials doubles the amount of space available - but Members cannot read half of the board at any one time. However this characteristic allows the hiding of some material at various times. Another approach to increasing the amount of space available uses boards set up like sash windows. Raising or lowering the board allows access for writing and (possibly) better display for Members above the head of the User.

Discussion Techniques – using the Group’s Questions and Statements and Making Statements – need diagram


1 Any discussion consists of many different contributions. These contributions often include many different points. The path a discussion takes will depend upon the points that gain most attention from Conference Members. Conference Leaders can influence the path selected by:

     (a) Whether they contribute

     (b) How they contribute.

2 If Conference Leaders do not contribute they allow other Conference Members to decide what they will select as important from the contributions of others and/or whether they will try to answer any questions put forward

3 Leaders who contribute can play a major role in directing the Conference by directing the flow of traffic e.g. which contributions will they emphasise; which questions will they encourage the Group to answer.

Contributions from Conference Participants

4 Conference Participants often ask questions of a Leader. Leaders have various approaches to dealing with questions. They can combine these approaches in different ways to give an even larger number of possible approaches.

5 A Leader can use any of the following four broad approaches –

     (a) Ignore the Question and make no further comment

     (b) Ignore the Question and contribute on a different point

     (c) Defer the Question

     (d) Deal with it.

6 However Participants will sometimes not allow Leaders to use the method they desire. They will: (a) deal with the question instead of ignoring it, (b) refuse to defer it by making further contributions, or (c) try to vary the way the Leader wishes to deal with a particular question.

7 Leaders who wish to deal with a question can –

     (a) leave the question as stated

     (b) alter it in some way; e.g. rephrase it, emphasise one or more parts, exclude a part, add something.

8 In dealing with a question (altered or not) they can –

     (a) give an answer

     (b) call for answers from –

           (i) one or more specific individuals

          (ii) all Participants without identifying anyone in particular.

9 They can also vary the sequence of whichever approaches they use. They can defer their answer until they have heard ideas from one or more Participants or they feel all Participants have contributed who want to contribute.

10 The flow diagram on the next page shows the various approaches and their combinations.

11 As with most techniques in Conference Leading, none rate as necessarily good or bad. The technique which will help most will depend on such factors as – (a) the stage a discussion has reached, (b) the speed with which the Leader wishes to move ahead and (c) the type of conference conducted. Above all it should depend on which approach the Leader believes will contribute most to achieving particular Conference Objectives.*

12 Statements, including ideas and suggestions from the Group, rate as similar to questions. Leaders can deal with a comment in similar ways to those listed above for dealing with questions. However, instead of answering a question, they can comment on a statement.

The Subject Matter of Questions and Statements

13 Leaders should classify the questions and statements in a discussion according to the closeness of the subject matter to the official topic. The relationship will rate as:

     (a) direct;

     (b) close;

     (c) slight;

     (d) nil.

14 A consideration of contributions (including questions) in this light will assist Leaders to guide the discussion by selecting and emphasising those contributions which will contribute most to the conference objective. *

* In practice, Conference Leaders will select and rephase those approaches which will most contribute to achieving the sub-objective they have for the conference at that time. Sometimes they make mistakes: the approach selected does not contribute to the discussion (sub) objective and/or the discussion (sub) objective will not contribute to achieving the overall conference objectives.

    15 Examples. A conference had only a short time until it reaches a planned finishing time. Thus the Leader ignored a question which had only slight relevance to the topic. In a different conference, the Leader also added the comment that the question rated as off-the-subject. In a development conference a slightly off—the-topic contribution brought no action by the Leader

16 This classification of contributions applies to both contributions by the Conferees and by a Leader. Hopefully a Leader’s contributions will usually rate as relevant. However when Leaders realise they have become involved in an argument, they should consider their position. They should evaluate their own comments in the light of the conference objective.

Statements by the Leader

17 Statements by a Leader will prove useful in the opening of a conference and as a summary at the end of a major section of the conference and/or the conference as a whole. During discussions, Leaders should usually avoid making statements. However where Leaders believe the Group should hear certain ideas and they believe they cannotdraw them out of the Group, they should make appropriate statements.

Should a Leader use Questions or Statements?

18 Leaders should prefer questions to statements because questions encourage Conferees to think for themselves. Statements from Leaders often encourage a non-thinking attitude. However statements will prove useful to rule out irrelevant contributions (e.g. “I believe your comment lies outside the topic of our current discussion”).

19 Sometimes statements by Leaders will prove dangerous. Sometimes a Leader expresses a personal opinion and becomes involved in an argument with the Group or part of the Group. Leaders risk losing control of the Group when this situation occurs

20 In training conferences, Leaders will more often make statements because they want Trainees to consider certain ideas.

21 Where Leaders do not make statements in the form of summaries some Groups will feel that they have discussed a subject but determined nothing concrete.