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How to Lead a Group Session, Meeting or Class with Ten Minutes of Preparation

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The social service field is full of situations where you get pulled from one task and with very little notice, get asked to do another.  It is not uncommon, for example for an educational group to be scheduled, and for a crisis to keep the regular mediator from being able to lead it.
Here are some tips for how to lead a psycho-educational, therapy, or substance abuse group successfully with very little notice.

You Already Know How to Lead a Group

  • You are an expert on something, or you wouldn’t have been asked (or volunteered) to lead the group.  Draw from your expertise. If your experience is employment, gear the group toward employment.  If how to make food stretch from paycheck to paycheck, then go with that.
  • Use only one or two core concepts per group.  It’s often a good idea to have a backup plan in place in case the group just won’t discuss the first topic you bring up, but once the topic is decided, stick with it and expore it deeply.  Good topics include: setting goals, taking the first step, acknowledging negative emotions, etc.
  • All groups have their own individual energy.  When you introduce yourself and/or the topic to the group, use this time to “read” the energy of the group.  Pick out one or two likely allies within the group who will probably be willing to contribute.
  • [amazon_link id=”0787947237″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ][/amazon_link]Remind the group of the five and a half goals of group interaction:
    • 1. Affirm
    • 2. Challenge
    • 3. Share Information
    • 4. Generate Ideas
    • 5. Keep it Safe
    • 5.5 Keep it Fun
  • Heckling happens.  Engage hecklers directly but gently, asking them a direct question related to the topic. If a heckler refuses to engage and continues to heckle after two or three reminders, it is time to ask the heckler to leave.
  • If you have them available, use chalk boards or dry erase boards to write the core concept and key insights that group members add to the conversation. Encourage group members to contribute. In a pinch, notebook paper and tape will work.
  • [amazon_link id=”098253521X” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ][/amazon_link]Ask open ended questions and encourage group members to converse directly with each other, not only to you.  Interrupt these conversations only if one member is clearly dominating or disrupting the discussion, and to provide occasional guidance and reframe and emphasize key points.
  • End the group by summing up the key points raised in the discussion and asking for any final contributions.  Don’t forget to thank the participants.

See, I told you that you know how to lead a group. Congratulations!


  • Speaking of Speaking, part 2 (
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