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How to Lead Book Club Meetings

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 17 Nov 2012 | comments*Discuss
Leading Book Club Meetings Leading

It is well-known that book clubs with assigned leaders or moderators to guide meetings often have much better discussions than those who leave it as a casual “free-for-all.” So what if it’s your turn to lead a book club meeting? How can you ensure that the discussions flow well and are a success?

Here are some tips to help you:

  • First decide as a group what the leader’s role should be so you’re all happy with the authority imbued in the role and there are no member resentments. For example, some groups want a very formal “official moderator” whilst others just want a casual presence to guide proceedings. In general a leader’s role falls somewhere between that of a host/hostess and a chairperson. Therefore, it is their responsibility to keep the meeting on track, to make sure that all members have an opportunity to contribute while also preventing any one member from dominating the meeting and to keep things in order so that constructive debate is the result and not disrespectful argument, when there is a difference of opinions.
  • It is also often the leader’s role to take care of the administrative details, such as reminding all members of the time, date and place for the meeting, whether by phone or email.
  • Don’t rush people straight into the discussion – especially if the club is relatively new and members are still getting to know each other, it is a good idea to allow some time for socialising and general chat as the more comfortable and familiar members feel with each other, the more willing they will be to offer opinions and ask questions during discussions.
  • If the group is relatively new, it can be a good idea to start the discussion by reminding everyone of the “rules” and guidelines for the club – for example, some reading groups give everyone a turn to speak or set a certain time limit for each member to speak on a topic.NOTE: this can be a valuable activity even if your group has been going for a while, particularly if you have recently experienced problems with some members (e.g., one person dominating conversations or too much general off-topic conversation) as it can be an appropriate way of reminding people of what is expected, without it being viewed as a personal attack on any individual member.
  • As a leader, you must be aware of each member’s different styles of discussion and expressing themselves, so that you gently encourage those who may be shy or reticent and tactfully restrain the extrovert members who may be loud and inhibit other members. This also prevents the book discussion being sidetracked by members keen to share exciting personal news with others.
  • It is a good idea for the leader to set the discussion topics – for example, choosing some passages from the book to start the discussion and having some questions prepared to stimulate conversation. Even sending the other members an email with all the starter questions can worthwhile, although it is important to be flexible and let discussion “flow” and not necessarily stick rigidly to the prepared questions.
  • Make sure you do some research – the internet has made this much easier now with online reading group guides, online book clubs and publishers’ websites full of resources – so that you have some questions and discussion points prepared, as well as perhaps author background, book reviews and additional information about the setting, culture or time period of the book.
  • If there are some members who have not finished the book – either from lack of time or interest – then focus discussion on initial reactions to the book and characters. While there is an expectation for all members to read the books assigned, remember that reading groups are meant to be fun, not a test, and to make allowances occasionally. However, if a member regularly ____ their reading, you might need to question their commitment to the club. And if several members are struggling to finish the book, then you might need to reassess the time between meetings or even look at the type of books assigned.
  • Especially if you use a reading group guide, there are probably more questions and discussion points than can be covered in a single meeting therefore it is better to decide on the key points that you really want to cover, so that discussions stay focused and meaningful – rather than try to skim over everything.
  • Most of the time, if conversation is flowing well, it will naturally move on from the original topic to other interesting areas. However, if you feel the need to move the discussion onwards, try to weave the next discussion point into the current conversation.
  • While it may be wise to avoid controversial books and topics until the group members are more familiar with each other, the best books for discussion often tend to be the ones which polarise opinions! Conversation will naturally spark off and with great energy when some of the group love the book and others hate it – and neither side can understand how the other can feel the way they do! If you do end up with a book which does not stir up any strong interest or emotion, it may be better to end the discussion early and move onto something else, such as other interesting books members may have read.

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