Not everyone is a natural at creating conversation. However, this is an important skill for small-group leaders. Your ability to make conversation helps people feel at ease in your group and encourages them to participate in discussions. Here are some practical tips to build your confidence in facilitating conversation.
- Tune In. Strong facilitators know if they want to see biblical community flourish in their groups, they must listen to others and learn what interests them. People light up when they are able to talk about their interests. Identify what your group members are interested in and bring those topics up in conversation. For example, if they're parents, ask them about their kids. If you know somebody enjoys a hobby, ask about it. It's easy to talk about things that interest us.
- Be Humble. Admit mistakes, ask for help, share your own shortcomings, and admit when you don't know something. If you do this, group members won't feel pressure to pretend their lives are more together than they really are. In fact, they'll be more apt to share openly and with greater vulnerability. One simple way you can do this is to learn to laugh at yourself and open up about areas in your life you're trying to improve. People can discern between genuine honesty and pretense. Honesty is sure to build community while pretense can tear it down.
- Make Eye Contact. Don't underestimate this key facilitation skill. Some people will interpret a lack of eye contact as a lack of interest in them and their story. By locking eyes with the speaker, you show you're interested. Nod and affirm the sharer with quick verbal affirmations like "Yep, I hear ya," "I know," and "You're right."
- Smile and Use Humor. Smiles stimulate conversation and retain people's attention and interest. Also, you'll find overall participation increases when you share humorous stories based on personal experiences. People identify with others' stories, and hearing them ignites a desire to share their own. Consequently, participants learn more about one another and discover new things they share in common. These interactions serve as a miracle serum for growth.
- Practice, Practice, Practice. There's a conversational rhythm to every group and over time you'll get better at identifying and developing it. With each meeting you will grow a little more confident, and as your confidence grows, so will your ability to facilitate conversation. Everybody can improve their conversation-making skills, and it's something you'll learn over time with practice. You may also want to sharpen your conversation-making skills by imagining how participants might respond to study questions and planning how you could sprinkle short personal stories or insights into the conversation. This forethought can train you to do this on the spot.
—Reid Smith is the Community Life Pastor of Christ Fellowship Church in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and the founder of the 2orMore small-group leadership training and resource ministry. Copyright by the author. Used with permission.