Below are some quick tips and tricks for facilitating, the first ten of which are adapted from this forum post by Jessica McCurdy:
How should I respond to this question/misconception/criticism of EA?
What do I do if the same people are always talking?
- Ask if someone who hasn't gotten a chance to speak as much would like to add anything.
What do I do if the conversation’s moving too slowly?
- Share your broad talking points ahead of time so people can be prepared for the kinds of disagreements you’re expecting to come up.
What do I do when someone uses a piece of jargon?
- Ask the person who used it to define it, or do so yourself.
What do I do if the discussion’s stalled because everyone’s agreeing?
- Ask explicitly if anyone disagrees or can think of a reason one might disagree, and if not, you can find someone to play devil’s advocate, do it yourself (if the topic is important), or just move on!
What do I do if we’ve gone off on a tangent for too long?
- You can let tangents run for a short while - if the discussion flows naturally and seems useful/fun for most of the participants.
- If it’s starting to take too much time away from more important topics, but they’re really excited about it, ask to put a pin in the conversation and come back to it after the discussion so the group has time to cover all of this week's points. Otherwise, it’s ok to just move on to the next prompt.
What do I do if the group’s too quiet?
- Ask a question, and go around the room, letting everyone give their answer. This should spark disagreement for you to turn into a discussion.
- If the problem continues, it’s often a sign that something isn’t working properly:
- Sometimes, especially early, this can mean that the people in your group need more time to get to know each other, so the solution here would be to devote more time to socialising (e.g. by running icebreakers).
- It might also just be the case that your group isn’t doing the reading in enough detail.
What do I do if the group’s not doing the reading?
- You can notice this when the group is slow to respond to prompts, responds generally superficially, or there are long silences. If you’re concerned that your group isn't doing the reading in enough depth, first ask them if they’re struggling to get through the material each week, and offer to provide prompts ahead of time so that their reading is more focused and guided. If the problem persists, there are probably more things wrong with the group than you know, or can be blamed for.
- Remember, though: if you’re not on top of the reading either, your participants can probably tell, and might feel less motivated to do the readings or take the program seriously.
What can I do to make me and my group more excited about these ideas?
- You should watch out that you or the group aren't taking in these ideas as if they’re solely academic: as static, discourse-encrusted technicalities which are mostly solved, or most of the way there. Try to break out of this mindset by presenting the topics as these huge, exciting, important unsolved problems that never stop evolving! EA is very new and focuses on underexplored areas with lots of low-hanging fruit. It’s not a static thing to be explained; it’s an ever-changing frontier to be explored!
- You can read more about this kind of framing here.
What do I do if there are long silences?
- Especially at first, be okay with them. Sometimes it takes people a while to speak up. See above for dealing with quiet groups, and/or refer to prepared questions or prompts to get people going if nobody pipes up within a reasonable timeframe, or if the silences are too regular.
What do I do if one person keeps interrupting?
- Handle the situation tactfully - ask the group as a whole if we could be cautious about letting people finish.
What do I do if that one person continues to talk too much?
- Have a chat with them after the discussion thanking them for their contributions. Gently explain that you would like to get to hear from everyone.
What do I do if one person never talks?
- Watch their facial expressions for cues that they might want to say something and ask them directly if they have something to add.
What do I do if I think one person is acting inconsiderately?
- At first, or if you’re not sure, ask the group if we could be more courteous to each other, and try to approach this kind of conversation with the expectation that they were not trying to be offensive, while being firm that you won’t accept this behaviour if it continues..
- If you are unsure, or think that stopping the discussion to highlight the behaviour might make the situation much worse, talk to them privately after the session, calmly re-outline the discussion norms of the group, and explain that even if they weren’t trying to be offensive, you think that some of their behaviour was likely making the group as a whole uncomfortable, and that it would be best for everyone if they could try not to behave like that again in future.
How do I handle explaining different points of view?
- As is often the case, you need to be upfront about what type of opinion you’re voicing, and why.
- This means you should ideally also be aware of what the type of perspective you’re bringing up is, and why you want your group to consider it.
- Is it:
- a core EA belief you think they should understand better
- something that some people believe that you want the participants to hear the argument for (even if you personally disagree),
- playing devil’s advocate to support the discussion
- or just speaking as yourself?
What is the EA position on X? Do EAs care about X?
- Probably, there isn’t one.
- EA isn't an entity that has its own opinions—EA is a framework we use to evaluate causes and interventions, and a community dedicated to doing so. EA has some key principles, but the vast majority of things that get talked about in the community are the source of much disagreement. This disagreement is what makes EA so cool; it’s constantly evaluating and questioning.
- While there might be some ideas that a lot of people in the community agree about, there are still others that disagree.
- Remember that uncertainty is a big part of EA: There are lots of things we don’t know, and there’s almost nothing we’re 100% sure of. So be sure when you’re talking about these ideas that you’re clear about levels of uncertainty.