Managing groups, meetings and talks


  • There are many different types of talks and situations to talk in. Sometimes you will be talking on your own, sometimes as part of a panel of speakers.
  • Find out what the overall theme is, who the other speakers are and what they will be talking about, the order of speakers; the time available and your focus and aims.
  • Sometimes you will be asked to give a more interactive workshop, where you need a few more skills at hand.
  • Sometimes you will need to split the group up according to interest groups / ways of campaigning / ideas and discussion groups etc. Your role here will encompass facilitating large groups, as well as providing information.
  • As before, the more info you can find out beforehand the better - the likely numbers, what they are expecting to get out of it, the info they may already have.
  • Sometimes you will have a chairperson /facilitator to organise the meeting - this is the ideal situation, but sometimes this role may fall to you, so its best to be prepared.


  • A facilitator’s role differs from just speaking at a meeting. It involves getting the best possible contribution from every participant and keeping the group moving towards its aims.
  • Always introduce yourself, and get everyone to introduce themselves - depending on the size of the group, this could be done in smaller groups instead.
  • Set some boundaries and aims at the beginning of the meeting - time, subject, aims of meeting, what the facilitator aims to do and where this responsibility ends, behaviour -what is and isn’t acceptable in this meeting.
  • Tune in to the overall group throughout the meeting - check energy levels, interest in subject, whether the aims are being fulfilled, structure - are large / small groups working well and time.


Go round - ensure everyone gets a chance to speak. This can become unfocussed, so best to establish what the purpose of the go round is, what info you want from people and write this up on some flipchart beforehand. Lay out the ground rules if people are new to this - everyone goes in turn without interruption or comment from other people. Go rounds can take time, and need careful facilitation, but can ground a group and allow important ideas to come up.

Brainstorms - often fast and chaotic. Have a ‘scribe’ or two, writing key words where everyone can see them whilst anyone and everyone speaks without discussion or censorship (thinking and organising the ideas comes afterwards, if necessary). Good for getting breadth of ideas on a
subject and can sometimes free up energy when its going a bit stale.

Mapping - use large writing where everyone can see it. Arrange key words in clusters (or out on their own) connecting arrows, colours etc. Says a lot more than a simple list.

Splitting up / making up - there are times when it is best for everyone to hear the same story at the same time, and it can be empowering to be in a large group working together. Sometimes a large group is unwieldy and can be dominated by a few people/ideas, so its best to split into smaller groups to allow easier focus and everyone to speak and feel involved. Splitting into small groups can be time consuming, so think clearly what sort of groups you need - should it be a random split (eg numbering off ) or specific interest groups. Whatever you do, be confident and explain clearly what you want the groups to do. If you have specific questions/topics for the group to concentrate on, write
these on flipchart beforehand and give them to each group. If you are going to have them feedback at the end, you need to say clearly what they need to feedback.

Energisers and games - Sometimes people cannot concentrate because they have been listening too long or the subject makes them tired - use your judgement to introduce some games or energisers. These can be a simple two minute turn to your neighbour and say how you’re finding it so far/what you had for breakfast/anything, or a stretch, or get people playing a game. Be sensitive to the audience though - the aim is to get their attention focused again afterwards, not to be embarrassed rigid, feel isolated or have people behaving in insensitive or cliquey ways.

Ice breakers - People come to meetings and talks with lots in their heads. Some people will be thinking of their day at work, somebody may have had an argument, somebody may be scared and not know anyone else. Icebreakers can help get people into the present more. Used well and confidently they can ground the group and help people to concentrate on the workshop/ meeting - but also be aware that they can take up time. Some people may not want to be involved - try gentle encouragement, but not embarrassment.

Group discussion- If you are the key speaker, the meeting will go better if someone else is thinking about the group. When it comes to the discussion part, that person needs to keep an eye on the audience to see who wants to speak, and ensure that no-one dominates the group. If there are particular themes for discussion, the facilitator needs to be aware, and ask if there are more questions on this theme, or notice that there are other questions out there which need to be answered.


Depending on your audience, you may not want to talk for all the time
you have. Some small group work can be useful in getting people working

Some examples:

  • give each group a newspaper clipping and get them to agree on the most important piece of info for local people to hear, and how they would get this across
  • give pairs some bite sized chunks of info, get them to read, talk about it and report back to the group the 3 major points
  • get a group to plan a campaign which they could carry out, or propose a course of action for the whole group
  • If you are working with a specific group, they will have a better idea of how to campaign for their audience than you. You can help tease out the ideas and provide stimulus - they can tailor it.

Some examples of dividing up into smaller groups:

  • Pairs- Turning to the person to your left/ right/someone you don’t know
  • Numbering off - This divides people up randomly, and is good for mixing people together. Decide how many small groups you want, then go round giving each person a number - eg five groups needed, go round giving people 1,2,3 etc till everyone has a number, then divide up. A more creative way would be names - maybe oil companies! Similar principle to numbering though.
  • Focus groups - Are there groups wanting to focus on specific areas - it may make more sense to divide up accordingly


  • People dominating the group discussion to the detriment of the larger group
  • People wanting attention
  • A group which is lacking in energy and enthusiasm
  • People wanting to pick personal arguments with the
    facilitator / speaker over what has been said
  • Someone in audience is an expert in one aspect and
    out to discredit you and your arguments
  • People ‘outsciencing’ you
  • Another group coming to the talk with their own agenda
  • Feeling out of control
  • Overrunning on time on some exercises

Rising Tide — Speaker Training Factsheet June 2001-