So, you’re either already in a reading group and have responsibility to host or facilitate; OR you’ve been thinking about starting a reading club or group but have been unsure about where to begin; OR you’ve happened upon this post by accident and can’t wait to browse some other posts here or elsewhere . . . .
Whether you’re a reader of not, if you have any kind of small group meeting in your home or if you ever plan to host such a group, hang in here for a few more paragraphs and see if you can use some of this stuff. It comes from decades of experience at facilitating small groups and will save you tons of anxiety and conflict as you facilitate your reading group.
Since it says so in the title, I’m going to assume this is a reading group we have responsibility for. Ready?
DO establish Group Rules/Guidelines. Some groups fail to do this and end up paying the price down the road. Even though we tend to hate rules, they help everyone know what’s expected and agreed upon. Therefore they lend stability and a level of predictability to the group experience. These in turn help the group cohere
Group rules/guidelines should be decided upon by the group for ownership. There’s always somebody who will conflict with the rules unless they understand that it’s not just you as facilitator/leader that has decided upon the standards, but the entire group that has set the standards in place. If we weren’t such easily offended, touchy, literary types, this would not be an issue, but this is 21st century America. In addition, people like to know what’s expected and allowed.
- Housekeeping Items to share with the group should be shared up front. These can include things like deciding whether you’ll meet at the same place every week, or rotate through the homes of those who volunteer to open their
- Meeting Times - Decide at the first meeting if the beginning and ending times work out for everyone. Set times that all can agree upon. Then KEEP THEM!!
- Begin on time. This is important. Plan 15 minutes up front to catch up, banter. But begin on time! This is the right place to say END ON TIME too. I’ll hit this one more time later in case you’ve forgotten by the time you go through this post of do’s and don’ts.
- ALL Cell phones OFF (or set to Airplane mode) - This is REALLY important. Far too many people are tied to their cell phones as though they were umbilical cords. Most people do not need to be immediately available. Unless you’re Secret Service, a brain surgeon on call, or a Navy Seal on active alert, you can probably go without the cell phone for an hour and a half.
- Provide a comfortable circle – Set up chairs so that you are in a circle. Try not to have too many hard chairs. Do you to strait to the hard chair to plant yourself for the next hour?
- Eliminate distractions – Don’t allow for ringing phones, howling dogs, demonized cats, parrots that quote Shakespeare. Some distractions can be very cute, but over the long haul, people will begin to drop out and you’ll never understand why. If your husband does Elvis impressions, ask him to perform in “the meeting AFTER the meeting”–when those who wanted to, have been able to spare themselves by way of a hasty departure
- Decide ahead of time about refreshments – Does the host home provide them all? Or do you rotate who brings them to the meeting place.
DO Establish “House rules.” These are the guidelines/rules that hosting home or establishment sets out for the group. The group should determine if this is a house group or a group that meets in public (e.g. at Starbucks or Joe’s Bagel Emporium). If in public, make sure you (or someone) has talked to the manager or asst. manager to find out what their expectations are. Work within them and you may have a great experience. You’ll be happy and they’ll be happy to have a regular group of customers.
If your reading group will meet in a home–your home–unapologetically lay out your expectations. After all, this is YOUR house. You are sharing it with your fellow readers, but they are not renting the space. They are in your home. You can expect them to understand that you really don’t want smoking in your home or dirty shoes on the wall-to-wall white carpeting in your formal living room. Or on the imported Persian rug in your library. If you’re unsure about what guidelines you’d like to establish, then seek out someone who’s experienced at hosting and they can give you a heads up on what you might realistically expect.
- What about kids? Will they be attending since some of your readers may be single moms or dads?What about your own kids? Will they be allowed to interrupt the group whenever they want attention or another glass of chocolate milk (part of the problem already perhaps)? Some parents of young children seem clueless when it comes to allowing their children too much freedom to be front and center. I’ve heard every excuse for why continual attention-grabbing is ignored or dismissed by some parents. Be honest with one another and discuss how children will or will not fit into the plan. We have found that a babysitter, or older sibling–paid for by the group–is often the perfect solution. We put a love-bowl on the table and even the parents who don’t have children present usually give generously and the babysitter goes home happy too.
- Provide Orientation – which door do you normally use? Let them know. Show them the bathrooms. Let them know if nothing but paper goes down the toilets please. Is it OK to get a glass of ice water or do you have a special time for “snacks & refreshments?” Anything they should know about parking? You get the picture.
- Purchase Helpful Resources – You might like to purchase some resources in the form of reference books to have on had for your meetings. Have Helpful Resources on hand (see my “5 Helpful Resources Every Book Club Should Own”).
- End on time. I repeat this because it’s very important. Better to have them leaving and wanting more than to have them continually fidgeting and glancing between your clock and their phones. You can always end on time and announce that whoever would like can mill around another half-hour. So now, I’ll lead by example. THE END.
QUESTION: What are some DO’s and DON’Ts you have discovered from your experience in a Reading Group/Club?
© 2013, David C Alves