How to Host a Book Discussion
(Including How to Select a Discussion Facilitator and How to Facilitate a Book Discussion without Giving Away the Plot!)

by Dr. Jennifer Kidney
Let's Talk About It, Oklahoma

Reading and discussion programs are a great way to build “community” and may take on a variety of formats. Appropriate venues include bookstores, museums, churches, the Chamber of Commerce, or your own livingroom. If your public library is the sponsor, having the book discussion at the library is a great way to attract new patrons and introduce them to library resources. You may choose to take the discussion program to your audience—for example, to a retirement home or school. The possibilities are endless!

The number of people needed for an effective discussion can range from two or three friends meeting over lunch to thirty community residents attending a library reading and discussion program. All you need to host a book discussion are enough books for everyone who participates, discussion guides (which will be available on the Oklahoma Reads Oklahoma website), a presenter and/or discussion facilitator(s), and a place to meet.

As a sponsor for a book discussion, you should ask participants to sign up in advance. Obtain addresses and phone numbers for everyone, especially if you are lending the books to participants. Sign-up for the discussion should occur at least two weeks before the program so that everyone has time to read the book. This will also help you judge the size of meeting space and quantity of refreshments necessary to accommodate your group. To select a day and time for your book discussion, consider the schedules and needs of your audience and try to avoid conflicts with other regularly scheduled meetings or special events, such as high school basketball games, community festivals or major fundraisers.

If you anticipate a large group, you may begin the program with an introduction or overview of the book for the whole group, but plan time for small group discussion. Limiting discussion groups to a maximum of eight or ten people gives everyone a chance to share their insights. Use color-coded or numbered name tags to easily divide participants into smaller groups.

You may decide you want an “expert” to facilitate your group. If so, investigate funding opportunities and grant assistance from the Oklahoma Humanities Council. Book discussions including a presentation by a scholar or other speaker should last about two hours. A typical format would include an introduction of the program, a 30- to 40-minute presentation by the speaker, a 10- to 15-minute break for refreshments, an hour of small group discussion, and a reconvening of the large group for final questions and a summary of the discussion.

These are just a few guidelines to get you started, but remember: the point of Oklahoma Reads Oklahoma is to cultivate the Oklahoma spirit by reading and talking about our great state!


How to Select A Discussion Facilitator

Civic clubs, book clubs, senior citizens’ groups, church groups, and other community organizations are often sources for good discussion facilitators. It’s best if you have an opportunity to observe the potential discussion facilitator actually leading or participating in a discussion. However, your own personal knowledge of people in your community and the recommendations of people you trust can guide you in the selection of appropriate discussion facilitators.

A good discussion facilitator is, first, a good listener—not opinionated or overly talkative. Facilitators should be tactful, poised, alert, and have a sense of responsibility. The facilitator need not be an “expert” on the program subject matter, but should be able to think and take action quickly to keep the discussion on track.

Psychologists, counselors, human resources personnel, nurses and people who are trained to listen, observe, and answer questions tend to be very good discussion facilitators. People who are trained to lecture, persuade, or control an audience may not be the best choices for this role.


How to Facilitate a Book Discussion without
Giving Away the Plot

Reading and discussion programs (RDPs) and book reviews are not synonymous. Book reviews focus on critiquing a book’s content or the author’s style. Reading and discussion programs encompass much more and are ultimately more fun.

Participants may share their own “reviews” of a book during an RDP, but the emphasis here is on generating audience participation, to discuss ideas that are stimulated by reading a common text. The role of discussion facilitator can be compared to a traffic cop. Your job is to get the discussion started, to keep it moving, and see that it stays on track—all while being attentive to each member of the group.

Following are some helpful hints to get your audience talking:

Do. . .
• Present a brief biographical sketch of the author, including their other works.

• Discuss how the book fits in the context of Oklahoma.

• Choose several topics from the Oklahoma Reads Oklahoma discussion guide (which will be available on this site) and ask the audience to offer comments on them.

• Compare the book to similar works by other authors.

• Present published reviews of the book. Differing opinions of books can be amusing and offer insight to the author’s intent and effectiveness.

• Make eye contact with the audience and try not to read your presentation. You’ll lose the opportunity for interaction and likely put your audience to sleep!


Don’t. . .
• Open the discussion with your own opinions, especially if they are negative.

• Talk too much. You’re not expected to be an expert on the book.

• Insist on everyone’s participation. Encourage discussion by calling participants by name and asking for alternate points of view, but know when to move on!

• Indulge a dominator. Divert the discussion by interrupting, if necessary, and directing a question to someone else.


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