By Reid Smith
Not everyone is a natural at making conversation. This is an important skill as a group leader because your ability to converse helps people to feel more at ease and at home in your group. You can build your confidence in creating conversation that actually constructs community by applying these tips that ANYONE can do:
- Tune-In – It’s easier to talk about things that we know about and interest us. However, a strong facilitator knows that listening to others and learning about what interests them is necessary if they want to see break-through in biblical community. People light up when they hear about things they’re knowledgeable about and are interested in. Identify what these subjects are for those in your group and bring them up, e.g. if they’re parents, ask them about their kids. If you know somebody enjoys a certain hobby, ask them about that. If you don’t know what people love in life, ask them! Look for pitch in voice and gestures—both tend to increase when people are engaged and excited about what they’re talking about. Make note of this.
- Be Humble – Admit mistakes, ask for help, share your own short-comings, and when you don’t know something, say so. These are all things that make people feel more comfortable in a group setting. If you do this as the group leader, your members will feel freer to be themselves and not as much like they need to come across as having things more together in their lives more than they really do. One simple way you can do this is to learn to laugh at yourself and open up about areas you’re trying to improve in your own life. People can discern genuine honesty and they can also detect pretense—one is sure to build community and the other can deconstruct it.
- Make Eye Contact – This is more than a toast-masters tip…it’s a key facilitation skill. By locking eyes with the speaker, you show you’re interested. Some people will interpret a lack of eye contact as a lack of interest in them, and their story. Nod and affirm with quick verbal affirmations like “I hear you…I know…You’re right…etc.”
- Smiles & Humor – Smiles stimulate conversation and help to retain people’s attention (and interest) in any conversation. You’ll also find overall participation increases when you share humorous stories based on personal experiences. Identification is the natural response for many people and this ignites a desire to share their own stories. Consequently, group members learn more about one another and discover new things they share in common. These interactions serve as ‘Miracle Grow’ for biblical community.
- Practice, practice, practice – There’s a conversational rhythm to every group and over time you’ll become more adept at identifying it and effective at cultivating it. After each meeting, you will grow a little more in confidence, and as your confidence grows, so do your abilities in all the skills mentioned above. Nobody is perfect at making conversation, but everybody can improve their ability to engage in ways that build healthy relationships. Another way you can sharpen your conversation-making skills is to envision upcoming discussions and imagine how group members might respond to study questions. Then think about how you could sprinkle your group’s interaction with short personal stories or insights that take less than a minute to share. Both of these help to keep conversational momentum in the group, but usually require some forethought and imaginative practice.
Group leaders who are great conversationalists help their group members open up and engage with each other on deeper levels. Anyone can make subtle developments in the areas above, and doing so will help you cultivate an environment where biblical community can flourish.