Why a Leader/Moderator Can Be a Good Idea

Even if your members are used to being part of group discussions and are good at listening to each other, it can still be a good idea to have somebody lead the meeting, in part to make sure that everyone's voices get heard but also to come prepared with thoughts on what topics would be good to discuss, so if the conversation starts to run dry in one area, the leader can redirect to more fertile areas.


The Moderator's Role

  • The role of a moderator will vary from group to group. Some groups might have a consistent moderator - for example if your group is run by the local library, a librarian will probably lead the meetings; other groups rotate the role; others may not feel they need one at all. In general, we recommend having a moderator and rotating the role.

    The moderator's role is to:
    • keep the meeting on track - digressions are fine but if the conversation strays too far off topic it's your job to bring it back.

    • introduce a new topic of discussion if the conversation seems to be flagging.

    • make sure that everyone feels that their voice has been heard and that no one person's voice is heard too much (and that includes your own!).

    • keep things civil - it wouldn't be much of a discussion if everybody agreed, but it is important that people express their alternate opinions in constructive ways that open a point up for discussion rather than disrespectfully squashing the opposition.



Tips on Leading Meetings

It's your turn to moderate/lead your book club's discussion. What can you do to ensure a successful meeting?

  • Your group probably has a fixed day and time to meet but the location might change. Even with a fixed day, a reminder a few days ahead can be useful, and knowing where the meeting is to be is very useful!

  • Remind the group when it's time for the discussion to start.

  • If there are new members, make sure they are introduced.

  • If there is any business to discuss, such as picking books for future meetings, you may want to cover these points before the discussion starts - in case people need to leave quickly at the end.

  • If there is a need, refresh people's memories on your group's ground rules - not all of them, just any where there have been issues. A minute or two on this can be time well spent. If you or other members feel there has been a problem in earlier meetings (e.g. one person dominating the conversation or too much off-topic conversation), this is the appropriate time to remind people what was previously agreed, rather than having to confront the person during the meeting.

  • Consider asking members to briefly give their opinion on the book. This makes sure that everybody's voice is heard early on and also will give you a feel as to how the conversation will go, and what areas are most likely to be of interest - and, of course, which members of the group have actually read the book! (Groups vary in their opinions on whether members can come to book club not having read the book, but one thing most agree is that those who have not read, or not finished, the book cannot tell the rest not to discuss plot spoilers.) More on this here.

  • Have a good topic of discussion to start the conversation and make sure to have some more ready to introduce if the conversation flags, goes off topic, starts to repeat itself or gets uncomfortably contentious. Many books suitable for book clubs have discussion guides. If the book you're discussing has one it's certainly worth printing it out - but do look through it before the discussion opens and decide which topics you think your group will enjoy. Most discussion guides are written in conversational tones, but some seem to be written by people channelling their inner English literature and need to be decrypted to find the salient topic hiding within the complex and multi-part question! If there isn't a reading guide, or you just prefer not to use official guides, you might find our DIY discussion guide tips of use.

    It is quite likely that you won't get through all the potential topics you've thought of for discussion. In fact, after opening the discussion, you may not even need to introduce any. If the conversation is flowing well it will naturally expand from the original topic into other interesting areas

  • Consider doing some research ahead of the meeting. For example, maybe look around for an interview with the author or, if the book is set in an interesting time or place, do some research on that so that you can provide background to the discussion.

  • Don't be too rigid keeping people on topic. As Harold Bloom (one of America's leading literary critic) says, the purpose of a book is

    "to get in very close to a reader and try to speak directly to what it is that they either might want out of the book or might be persuaded to see... [to persuade the reader] that certain truths about himself or herself, which are totally authentic, totally real, are being demonstrated to the reader for the very first time"

    In short, discussions do not have to stay rigidly about the book to be relevant. Many of the best discussions are triggered by the book and then the members discuss the topic from the perspective of their own experience. Having said that, if the conversation is going way off topic (which might be defined as a conversation involving just a couple of people that is not of interest to the group as a whole), it's time to bring it back on track


To be fully prepared, you might wish to read our Tips on Handling Difficult Meeting Situations page!

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