Discussion Techniques – Outside Distractions

Three Types of Outside Distractions

1 Three different types of distractions exist:

     (a) Interruptions

     (b) Visitors

     (c) External Noise.


2 Leaders will be st combat interruptions by making it difficult for them to occur.

3 Conferences should use suitable rooms and Organisers should establish the practice of not allowing anyone to interrupt Conferences to speak to Members. Both Conferees and anyone seeking them will probably accept this situation if Conference Organisers (a) arrange for someone to take messages and calls and (b) establish definite intermissions where Conferees can deal with urgent messages.


7 Visitors usually only occur in Training Conferences.

8 Two types of Visitors exist – those who want to address the Conference and those who wish to see the Conference in action.

9 For the former case a brief talk, possibly with questions afterwards, will often satisfy the Visitor and have little or no effect on the Conference itself – except that it involves a definite break.

10 With Observers, some Conferees will feel restricted. However this feeling depends upon the Visitor’s status in the Organisation.

11 If the Visitors hold a high Executive position, Leaders should warn them of the possible effect on the Group. Leaders should place such Visitors in an inconspicuous position where the Group will find it easy to forget their presence. Appropriate topics will also help – no-one should expect a Group to discuss freely some topics (e.g. the weaknesses of Senior Management) if a Senior Member sits in on the Conference.

12 Sometimes, especially in Training Conferences, the presence of a senior person will prove very useful. If the Conferees want to apply some idea from the Conference they will need the support of Senior Managers. If these Managers have done the same training all the better. If they have observed the Training Conference sometimes it will increase the probability of them supporting the ideas.

13 If Senior Managers observe a non-training conference (a rare situation), it can help them accept (or reject) any ideas and recommendations from the conference, because they have heard more of the ideas of various people. At least they make their decision on more evidence.

External Noise

14 External Noise usually means that someone has not prepared adequately for the Conference. Conference Organisers should choose a setting free of this possibility.

15 Organisers should also view noise as communication “noise”. Thus open windows where Members can see things happening outside the conference also constitute external “noise”.

The Importance of Outside Distractions

16 In general, elimination of outside distractions will not guarantee the success of a Conference, but they can do much to detract from its practical working. Overwhelming noise can completely ruin a Conference.

Discussion Techniques – Physical Actions


1 These notes discuss a few physical actions which Leaders can take to help achieve various objectives in a conference.

Standing Up or Sitting Down

2 Usually Members sit down at a conference. Anyone who stands up tends to attract attention and physically dominate the group and therefore gains more influence over the group.

3 Often Leaders can signal that they want to contribute by standing up. Sometimes it will signal a desire to take control of the discussion. The Leaders may wish to move the discussion from a Group-centred one to a Leader-centred one.

4 Sometimes other Members will realise the Leader’s desire. Where they feel that the Leader has the right to act in this way they will co-operate by waiting for the Leader to speak.

5 Conversely, Leaders who have finished their points and sit down will encourage Participants to contribute.

Location of a Member - particularly the Leader

6 Usually Leaders have a central location. Members know the location and most Participants tend to look towards it for some type of guidance.

7 Leaders can “fade” out of the group if they move to one side of the usual central location and become part of the group. Whether Leaders can do so depends upon the layout of the group. If a group sits in a four sided arrangement with the Leader occupying one of the sides (an open- square approach) the Leader can move to one of the sides on which the other Members sit and sit down. The Leader “fades away” by sitting in this position because Participants on the same side cannot easily see the Leader.

8 To some extent Leaders can achieve the same objective by standing up and moving outside the group – virtually standing outside the square formed by the four sides.

9 Leaders who sit in between a number of Participants can often achieve the same objective by drawing back a chair so that other people on either side find it difficult to sight them.

10 These types of physical actions by a Leader often encourage a group-centred discussion – Participants do not expect the Leader to “take the lead”.

Use of Eyes

11 Leaders can “fade out” of the group by looking away from the Speaker.

12 If a Leader catches the attention of a person speaking and encourages that person to speak to the Leader, other Members also look at the direction of the conversation flow. When the Speaker finishes others often expect the Leader to contribute.

13 Leaders who deliberately avoid catching the eye of a Speaker can encourage the Speaker to speak to someone else. That someone else feels that he/she should answer the Speaker.

14 Leaders should avert their eyes away from the Speaker but still encourage the Speaker to believe that they pay attention to the Speaker’s contribution.

15 A few methods exist: (a) cocking the head to indicate listening to the Speaker (b) putting a cupped hand over the ear and placing the ear and the hand in the direction of the Speaker’s voice.

16 The physical actions of a Leader will assist an overhead question[1]. This type of question addresses all Members of the group instead of any particular individual. Thus Leaders should keep their eyes moving around and not look at any particular person.

17 Conversely, if Leaders ask a particular person to contribute they should keep their eyes on that person.

[1] An overhead question describes a question which someone directs to the group as a whole - over the head of the group. The questioner does NOT direct the question to a particular person.

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.

Ensure the correct/useful Classes exist for use with Vote Taking

What Should a Leader Do To -

L79 – Ensure the correct/useful exist for use with Taking

Conference Members need of the “position” of other Members on the current Topic

1 Conference and Participants need to know the general of other Members about the under discussion. This information will help them to decide how to proceed, i.e. what should happen next in a conference.

     2 Examples of what should happen in a Conference. Should we move to another topic? Do most people agree with a particular point? Who should we ask to speak next? How much time should we spend on the current topic? What probability exists that we can agree on a particular matter?

Voting provides one method of showing “Position”

3 One way to find out the position of Members involves asking people to vote (e.g. put up their hands to show agreement for a particular idea [voting ]). This method tells everyone the Members’ current thinking about a particular situation/idea and helps Members to decide how they should act next.

     4 Examples. Eight people vote in favour of doing something; two people vote against it. Probably it will prove most beneficial if Members listen to the views of the Members. Probably they will have different views than the eight in favour of something. These views may alter the attitude of the eight voting in favour. In this example, the voting helps to decide whom to ask to speak next on a particular topic.

5 However this method will need to use classes that allow Members to believe they can express their current situation/ideas.

Voting will not work well without appropriate voting Classes

6 The voting classes will prove satisfactory only if they provide classes that adequately describe the range of current views of all Members.

Non voting suggests poor and/or insufficient voting Classes

7 Often Participants do not vote because (a) they do j understand the question and/or one or more of the voting classes suggested and/or (b) they do not feel satisfied with the classes offered.

8 Thus Leaders need to explain carefully to Members (a) the question and/or (b) the various voting classes.

9 Where any Participants feel dissatisfied with a particular class, Leaders should ask such Participants to describe a class that would satisfy them. Invariably Leaders will find that they need to add to the number of classes offered.

Encourage an Atmosphere which challenges voting Classes

10 Both Leaders and Participants should am, to create an atmosphere which encourages Participants to point out to Leaders that they do not feel satisfied with the voting classes.

Some common Errors of voting Classes

11 With experience, Leaders will realise certain situations lead to the omission of certain classes.

     12 Examples. (a) In a yes/no situation the voting classes do not contain the possibility of a “Don’t know”. (b) “Agree” or Disagree often requires the additional class of “Don’t care” and/or “Unsure”.

13 A common problem occurs when one class has two factors in it and people do not know how to allocate importance between the two factors.

     14 Example. A Member will find it difficult to say Yes (or No) to – I do not want to go to the party but I do want to go to the pictures. A Member may not want to go to the party or the pictures.


15 The taking of a vote to indicate the current position of Members’ thinking represents an important conference technique. However, people will not accept the technique unless the voting classes allow them to express their opinions accurately. Thus Leaders (and Participants) should =

(a) Check carefully that the vote-taking classes do allow all Members to disclose their current opinions and

(b) encourage people dissatisfied with the classes to say so and suggest classes that would fit their position.