Many people want to be part of an educational group, such as a book or movie club, but can't find the other people to join. An equal number of people want to start or organize their own but have issues with getting things setup and understanding how to properly be a moderator for an often divergent group of people. There are indeed some tricks of the trade.
As you start organizing/moderating your group, remember that the members of the club actually own the group. A moderator/organizer's job is to make sure every voice gets heard and that things stay focused. The best way to do that is to implement democracy through every stage of the process: from book/movie/reading selection to when/where the next meeting will be. Democracy also means giving people opportunities for ownership in the group. Let different people volunteer to create the question prompts, provide the space for the meetings, and provide the food for the evening.
DECIDE ON A THEME
To make things easier for book/movie/reading selections, pick a theme for the club. Examples are: Banned Books, Classic Literature, Modern Literature, Romance, Science Fiction, New York Times Best Sellers, Independent/Foreign Films, etc. If the list is finite (i.e. Banned Books, New York Times Best Sellers), you can create an Amazon wish list of the items to be selected. The public wishlist link can be easily included in your email being sent out for the group vote.
RECRUIT THE PEOPLE
Recruit the people closest to you first then have the people interested recruit their friends and then the friends of friends. In theory, this should work but it doesn't always. Since many people aren't comfortable recruiting strangers, be open to other possibilities. Post an announcement in your house of worship's flyer, ask to post something at the place you volunteer or your kids' school, or even on the notice board at your workplace. If these options don't exist directly for you, ask your friends and friends of friends to post in these places.
DECIDE ON THE RULES
Rules need to be communicated up front. The most important thing as an organizer is that you keep the dialogue open and as members propose changes that you forward them out for anonymous group vote. Here are some basic rules to get you started:
- Democracy is in effect
- Rules can be voted upon, with the majority deciding the direction of the group
- All books/movies/readings proposed to be read must be tied to the group theme in some way
- Voting is anonymous and members are allowed one black-ball vote during each voting cycle
- The group is capped at 10 members with anyone new requesting to join being placed on a waiting list.
- New members can be proposed by any existing group member as long as they meet the agreed upon group criteria
- Meetings need to be held in private settings, preferably in someone's home – no public venues.
- Meetings begin at 7:00 p.m. on an agreed upon Saturday, with dinner/discussion beginning between 7:30 and 8:00, and the discussion lasting no longer than 11:00 p.m.
- Meeting dates are subject to group vote
- There are three roles available for volunteering at each meeting: (a) discussion prompt preparer (characters, themes, quotes, and questions about the book are to be created), (b) chef, and (c) space provider.
- Individual address, email, phone, or other contact information is held by the group administrator and is not shared unless the individual agrees to their information being shared.
- One fun event is to be planned each year so that group members have a chance to know each other outside the typical discussion setting.
This is just a sample starter set of rules to help get you going.
GET THE VOTES
Send out your first email asking for the top three books/movies/readings based on the theme that each person would like to read or watch. Be sure to give a deadline -- usually seven days. After this deadline, you compile the list of the items sent in -- creating an Amazon wish list if you can. I mention creating this wishlist on Amazon since members will be able to see the book/movie/reading cover as well as read descriptions when making their final selections.
Send out the second email asking for the top five items they most want to discuss based on the wishlist. Asking for five ensures that they will vote for more items than they submitted and you will get a clearer winner this way. Members also get a black ball vote during this round. Any item getting a black ball vote cannot win and is disqualified. Black ball votes, just like regular voting, are anonymous. The black ball vote is important since it ensures members won't have to read/watch anything that they really, truly don't want to read/see.
During the second round of votes is when you ask for volunteers for the chef, the discussion prompt preparer, and the space provider. People will have the opportunity to volunteer as appropriate for themselves this way. Dividing up this reponsibility and having members take voluntary turns at it gives members ownership in the group they are building.
VOLUNTEERS PREPARE THEIR PARTS
The chef cooks enough food for the number of group members. Some groups are all about the food. Some are not. Make sure members know that the meal doesn't need to be fancy. You want to make sure people feel comfortable volunteering to be the chef and that all types -- from fancy and French to the simplicity of ordering the pizza -- are acceptable.
The space provider needs to have enough room for all the group members to sit comfortably. It's important to note that groups should meet in private settings. Restaurants and bars are great for social functions but the background noise and distractions aren't advisable for discussions. Homes are excellent if you know your group members well. Libraries that have reservable meeting rooms and coffee shops can also be excellent choices.
The question preparer is also frequently the group organizer. Preparing questions can be easy if the book/movie/reading is well known or is a classic. Resources like Sparknotes.com have some excellent discussion questions for more frequently read books. For newer or less frequently used sources, the preparer will need to create the questions as they read the book and watch the movie in advance of the group's meeting. This means reading/watching with a much more critical eye.
SPECIAL NOTE FOR THE QUESTION PREPARER
While preparing, the question prompt creator is pulling meaningful quotes, identifying overall themes, noting any symbols that stand for something greater, and generating open-ended questions based on the material. Questions also need to be prepared to ask people to extrapolate specifically from the source material but also link the material to people's personal lives to help aid in discussion. Instructional YouTube videos are planned to break down how to do this in greater detail.
Start with enough time so that people have the first half hour to an hour to socialize before diving into the source material. You can also use this initial time to go over anything club related that needs to be talked about.
As you have new members and at the first meeting, go over the rules decided by the group as well as the list below to ensure people are clear about what it means to have a discussion and also how to use the question prompts:
- Treat everyone with respect by not interrupting someone when they are talking
- Conversely, we are all responsible to ensure everyone gets the chance to contribute. If someone is talking too much or too little, it is everyone's responsibility to ensure the quieter person is drawn out and the more talkative person asked to wait or hold their opinion until others have spoken
- Since question prompts are either cut up and drawn from a bowl or grouped together on the same card based on topic, group members will rotate the reading of the question prompts. If you are reading a question prompt, you forfeit your right of first response to the question you just read. Another group member will need to respond to the prompt before the reader can respond. This is to help ensure that all members talk equally and no one member can dominate the conversation.
Though questions have been prepared, don't rely on them as a crutch. The questions are to fill in and to keep the conversation going. Start off with the questions, "What did you think of the book, movie, or reading?" and "What parts of the source material made the strongest impressions on you?" When the conversation lulls, move to the question prompts.
Remember, the group organizer is the official moderator. It's the moderator's job to make sure everyone is heard and the conversation stays balanced. The moderator also is there to keep things on topic. Just like preparing the question prompts, much more will be available on how to moderate a discussion on YouTube in the coming months.
AFTER THE MEETING
Send out the post meeting email being sure to thank everyone who attended -- in particular, be sure to thank the people who volunteered for the last meeting. From here, the cycle begins again. Be sure to leave enough time -- usually two to three months -- between meetings so that members have time to vote and have enough of a gap. Some groups can meet more often depending on the source materials used. If the source material is a book, most people will need a larger gap to fit in time to read the book along with their other personal responsibilities.