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Making Large Group Debriefs More Engaging

By Martha Lasley
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The larger the group, the more difficult it is for people to stay engaged when we debrief a learning activity. When facilitators do less telling them what we want them to learn, we create space for more discovery of what they are actually learning, which is more profound. Of course we need a balance between teaching and self-directed learning, but it takes a lot of courage to trust that they will learn all that we want them to learn, and more!

Here are a few ways to increase the level of engagement:

  • JOURNAL/ MINGLE: After an activity, start with 5 minutes of journaling answering 3 questions: What Happened? What did you learn? How will you apply your learning? Then they speak those three things out loud, by doing the debrief as a mingle, ringing a chime every 2 minutes so that they change partners in mid-sentence.
  • They learn to headline pretty quickly and some of the richest learning travels with them when they change partners. After about 10 minutes, while they are still standing, we call on a few people to share in no more than 3 sentences. We choose some of the quieter people and also those who have that look on their face that they’ve had a break through.
  • TAKING CHARGE: With only 10 minutes for the debrief, instead of calling on people, we can ask them to reflect on what they’d like to share. We ask them to take charge of the room, as they share their learning, without first getting consent of the facilitators or the group.
  • EMERGING VOICES: Ask those who have not spoken to step up and those who have spoken to step back and hold space for emerging voices.
  • THE GROUP CHOOSES WHO SPEAKS: Instead of hearing from the same 6 people every time, don’t ask for raised hands. Instead, we toss a ball, which means that the group calls out voices they want to hear.
  • GROUPS OF 4 AND GROUPS OF 8: We can get people into groups of 4 to debrief and then merge them into groups of 8 (or so). Keep them in those small groups of 8 as we move to the large group sharing. One person from each group speaks, and we ask the person who has gotten the least air time to be the spokesperson, sharing not for the whole group, but what she or he personally is taking away. Often the people who speak little are integrating a lot and share at a deep level.
  • 1 – 2 –ALL – 2- 1: In an ideal world, the debrief is at least as long as the activity. The questions on the flip chart: How do you feel? What happened that was important? What did you learn? How will you use what you learned? They start by reflecting and then writing and don’t until every pen is put down. Then they share in pairs. Staying in pairs physically (this keeps them in an intimate space where they feel supported to speak), we go into the large group debrief by asking a few people to share what they are taking away from the activity. After that, they get into a different pair to continue sharing how to move forward. And lastly, they spend 5 more minutes journaling.
  • STANDING DEBRIEF: When we are well into the program, the facilitators don’t need to be the learning police. Very high level of engagement and energy when they shared in groups of four, answering flip charted questions and then go beyond to ask their own questions.
  • MOVING DEBRIEF: After a long coaching, we can ask them to walk in silence, reflecting on what happened. One of the things we can ask them to do was to step into their power and claim their space (while the whole group is standing) to share tips about calling out the power. Something about a standing debrief helps – not only do they share more succinctly, but there is something valuable about more of their body moving when they share. They are the authority on their own learning! We can experiment with everyone walking as they share. Similar to the way physical movement in a coaching session unblocks energy and gets people into action, a debrief that incorporates movement can be very moving.

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