Why We Love Small Group Discussions

Imagine you’re at a community meeting with 50 strangers and a portable mic is being passed around the crowd. Do you…

A) Quickly move seats to avoid its path and the prospect of public speaking?

B) Grab the mic and deliver a soliloquy on electric scooters?

C) Or, something in between A and B?

Regardless of where you personally stand, there are plenty of As and Bs out there. How do we ensure both of their ideas are shared in productive and inclusive ways? Consider keeping it small!

Breaking out into small groups gives you a diversity of perspectives while also helping to engage your audience and build connections. Check it out:  

Keeping it small means hearing from more people  

We often hear the principle “make space, take space.” At a small group discussion, the facilitator can encourage the less eager to “take space” and direct the more expressive to “make space.” There are a host of reasons that make speaking up more or less challenging for folks and small discussions can help even the playing field. Varying inclinations to speak publicly aside, small group discussions simply mean there is more time available for each person!

Let’s say 50 people RSVP’d to your community meeting and you only have 15 minutes to talk about bike lane preferences. There isn’t even time for everyone to speak and hearing from a small handful may not be representative of the group. This is a great opportunity to break into small groups and have a note-taker capture everyone’s ideas.    

Keeping it small means increasing engagement

Think back on your school days and sitting through long PowerPoints with the lights turned down. Listening is hard! Listening for extended periods of time about something inherently complex is even harder! We don’t want attendees getting drowsy or tuning us out. We also want to respect the knowledge in the room. Even if your subject matter is riveting, and chances are it’s not quite as riveting as you think, we want to avoid attendees being passive. Small group discussions allow for active participation, creativity, and two-way communication, which all increase engagement.

Let’s say you need to share a deck about the seismic safety of a new building, but you’ve got both structural engineers and emergency responders in the room. Give everyone the baseline information and then break into small groups where the discussion is tailored to the specific audiences. This allows people to make deeper connections to the material and bring in their own expertise.  

And keeping it small means building connections

When is the last time you walked into an open house and one person was holding court? Small group discussions are the appropriate scale to build connections and create community. The opportunity to have a dialogue – share an idea, hear a reaction, add more information, re-frame, disagree, and all the things that go into a rich discussion – develops relationships and increases people’s investment.  

Let’s say you’re hosting a meeting about a new parklet. Instead of hearing from one neighbor upset about losing parking and one shop owner excited about additional customer seating, break into small groups discussions where the conversation can be more nuanced.

We know breaking into small groups also has its challenges. It often means more staff is required for facilitation, it can pose challenges to setting up a room, or require more transition time. We can help you navigate all your small group discussion questions!