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Discussion Leader Guidelines

The Greater Philadelphia Thinking Society (GPTS) needs you!

Discussion Leader Guidelines

In order to provide interesting discussions on a wide variety of topics, we need more discussion leaders. This document provides our recommended suggestions to practice the art of leading discussions for the GPTS. Feedback is welcome.

When you are ready to lead a discussion, simply choose a topic and ask the Co-Organizers to schedule your event. We will work with you to answer your questions, review your plans, arrange the details, and assign an experienced leader to support you during your first few events.

Choosing a topic

While almost any topic could be conducive to an interesting conversation, the most interesting discussions have these four traits:

  • Accessibility: Topics should be accessible to people without specialized knowledge of the subject.
  • Diversity: We value meetings that explore a broad range of topics including current events, science, technology, nature, design, philosophy, politics, religion, business, culture, literature and art. We generally give a topic a long hiatus before revisiting it. Check that your topic has not been discussed in the last year. [In a google search bar, enter "" followed by a keyword for your topic. Check the results to see how close it matches your topic and when it took place.]
  • Depth: Choose a topic that is complex and can be explored from different perspectives. Prepare questions to help participants dig deep into subtleties of the subject.
  • Breadth: Event hosts should be familiar with most sides of a topic so it can be discussed broadly and conscientiously. Prepare questions to invite participants to accept their own genius and share their perspective and knowledge of the subject.

Discussion leaders do not need to be experts in the topic, but you will need to be familiar enough to help participants probe the subject thoughtfully.

Facilitating a meeting

Arrive at least 15 minutes early so you can prepare the space for the meeting, purchase something from the venue providing our free space, and greet early arrivals. Start the meeting promptly or once everyone is seated. To get the discussion going, begin with the following steps:
  • Introduce the Greater Philadelphia Thinking Society (GPTS) as a forum for the exploration of ideas.
  • Emphasize the participatory nature of the group by asking everyone to briefly introduce themselves.
  • Frame the topic of the meeting with a short introduction (ideally less than two minutes). It is often helpful to end your introduction with one or more questions to kick off the discussion, but sometimes a comment or observation will spark discussion too. You should have several additional questions and/or observations at the ready to steer and refocus the conversation in case it lags or goes off topic.

Ground Rules For Discussions

To encourage a stimulating, dynamic and respectful discussion, we recommend the following:
  • Only one person should speak at a time. The leader should assign a speaking order if several people want to talk at once.
  • Ensure that everyone gets an opportunity to voice their thoughts.
  • If a participant starts a long speech or diatribe, the leader should politely interrupt and redirect the conversation back to the group.
  • Since our group includes diverse viewpoints, misunderstanding and disagreement are inevitable. Exploring the values and beliefs behind different viewpoints can often help everyone understand each other better. Instead of debate and argument, leaders should strive to explore these deeper values and make sure that everyone is heard.
  • The discussion leader is responsible for keeping the conversation on topic, respectful, and exploratory.


We ask discussion leaders to help with these administrative details:
  • Take attendance to let us know who attended and who did not. In the 'Tools' pull down on your event page, 'Edit RSVPs' will allow you to mark people 'Didn't Attend' or 'No Show'. If someone was on the attendance list for at least 24 hours and did not attend, mark them a 'No Show' unless they communicate their regrets. Finally, in some cases you may need to manually adjust the count of the total number who attended.
  • It is important that our leaders and members have stimulating and civically minded conversations at our events and in our on-line community. Please report to the Co-Organizers any unusual issues or concerns about your event (noise at the venue, anything that made you uncomfortable or seemed problematical, etc.) so we can work to address them.

The Greater Philadelphia Thinking Society (GPTS) needs you!

Please consider leading one of our events. Whether you just want to chat about possibilities or if you are interested in some topic and ready to go, please drop us a line.

Table of Contents

Page title Most recent update Last edited by
Our Discussion Leaders August 30, 2017 9:28 AM CJ F.
Mentoring Guidelines February 21, 2016 10:16 AM CJ F.
Discussion Leader Guidelines February 21, 2016 10:01 AM CJ F.
Frequently Asked Questions November 4, 2016 8:21 AM CJ F.
About Greater Philadelphia Thinking Society August 4, 2016 5:05 PM CJ F.

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