Music by Brother J. L. F. Mendelssohn.
The Masonic seminar has become an effective
tool of Masonic education. Too frequently the
seminar lacks the desired results because the discussion leaders are not properly versed in their
duties. M.S.A. is happy to provide a ''working
tool" which can improve their effectiveness. The
following Copyrighted article appeared in the
July, 1983 issue of Successful Meetings Magazine.
It was written by ROBERT LETWIN, a well-
known and recognized authority in the field of
LEADING IS TRICKY
Copyright 1983, Bill Communications, Inc.
Reprinted by Special Permission.
You get a telephone call asking you to lead a
group discussion at the next meeting. "What do
I have to do?" you ask.
"The subject will be announced in advance.
All you have to do is remind the group of the
subject and then get everybody to talk. That's
all . "
It sounds easy enough, but don't be fooled.
Your being a discussion leader is a tricky job. It
takes skill and planning.
There are three major traps to ensnare an
unskilled discussion leader. The first is that he
takes on the role of a teacher instead of a discussion leader. (Since the discussion leader
knows the subject well, it is easy to slip into this
role. When that happens, discussion is dead.)
The second trap is to become an answer
machine. Someone asks a question and you
answer. The session devolves into an ask-the-
expert program rather than a discussion.
Your third possible pitfall would be to
become "the defender of the faith." Here you
become an apologist for the status quo and disallow any discussion that reflects adversely on
What you want to do as a discussion leader
is to involve everyone in the audience. Give
everyone an opportunity to speak and allow no
one to monopolize discussion -- especially
These are the steps you take for a good
1. State the objective of the discussion to
the group and the area of discussion.
2. Explain that everyone participates, but
there are to be no speeches.
3. To get started, you put a sharply defined question to the group. If no one responds,
have an alternate question that is easy for anyone to answer. Resist entering into a monologue.
4. Test for the audience's objective. Is it
the same as yours? If the audience would like to
steer the discussion in another direction, make
sure there is a consensus. If there is, discuss
what the audience considers to be more important. Good discussion follows when everyone is
agreed on what to talk about.
5. Keep in mind what you hope will be the
outcome. Ask questions that will focus on the
agreed upon objective.
- 6. Have a member of the group serve as a
reporter to keep a running record of problems,
issues, facts and decisions discussed. From time
to time, have the reporter summarize. This is
useful when the group starts to stray from the
7. Resort to easy-to-answer questions
when discussion bogs down. For instance, ask a
question about the time sequence, such as:
"What comes first, and next?" You can also
ask, "What is the biggest problem with . . .?"
or, "What has been your experience with . . .?"
8. Ask for votes. Get a consensus on as
many points as possible.
9. Don't rephrase what is offered by a
group member. Repeat the statement exactly as
it is given. (Resist inserting your words or editing comments. This can be intimidating. No
one wants his words corrected in public. This
also tends to stifle discussion.)
10. Don't feel that you have to cover
everything you know about the subject. That's
not the purpose of discussion. Rather, the aim
is to have everyone in the audience participate.
It is better to have a lively, well-explored segment of a subject than breeze along quickly
without deep reflections.
11. Summarize with the help of the reporter. Point out problems raised during the
discussion. List bright ideas. Point out areas of
agreement and disagreement.
12. If some members of the group do not
have the courage to speak up, draw them in
with non-threatening questions. Ask them to
share their experiences.
13. It is best to toss questions to the entire
group. But, if you want to ask a quiet person to
speak, call the person by name before you ask
the question. Say, "John, what did you think
when you first head about . . .?" By starting
with the person's name, you provide time for
him to concentrate and think about an answer.
14. When someone tends to monopolize
discussion, politely interrupt and ask someone
else in the audience to comment on the monopolizer's statements. Allow the audience to
straighten out its members instead of your doing it. Too tight a rein will cut off discussion.
15. Feel good about not covering all the
points you had written in advance. This means
you have led a wholesome discussion and were
not prompted to inject your opinions in favor
of those in the group.
Copyright, 1983, Successful Meetings, Bill
Communicutions, Inc., 633 Third Ave., New
York, N.Y. 10017. Used by speciul permission.
It's good practical advice which works well
in the business community and should readily
be adaptable for use by discussion leaders in
Masonic Conferences, seminars, workshops
Some other techniques for conducting successful Masonic seminars also are based upon
common sense. Plan early . . . and constantly.
Be prepared for every eventuality. . . facilities. . .
equipment . . . back-up personnel . . . hand-out
materials . . . advancepublicity . . . registration . . . first aid facilities . . . inclement weather. . .
coffee breaks . . . parking . . . sound systems . . .
audio-visuals . . . "no-show" speakers . . . alter-
native plans . . . and the list goes on.
Any seminar must have a logical PURPOSE
and attainable GOALS. The participants must
be made aware of those purposes and goals. It
is well to announce them in the "call" of the
meeting, at the start of the session, and to
review them during the course of the seminar. It
helps to keep things "on track" and to keep the
The physical arrangements of the meeting
place must be such that everyone can see and
hear. Distractions should be kept to a minimum. One recent Wardens' Workshop was being held in a Conference Motel. The conference
room had windows which overlooked the swimming pool. In and around the pool were some
wonderful examples of "heavenly bodies" clad
in bikinis, which were more of a distraction
than could be controlled by the discussion
leader. He quickly summarized the points of
discussion and reminded the Junior Wardens
that it was the sun "at meridian" they were to
observe. The Senior Wardens he reminded were
to "see that none go away dissatisfied." The
break was a bit longer than scheduled, but
when the session reconvened, curtains covered
Lessons must be learned as the result of
every seminar. What works well can be used at
subsequent workshops. What doesn't work well
must be modified, or possibly eliminated. The
plans, the execution and conduct, and the
results of each such meeting should be analyzed
and evaluated, so that the following sessions
will more adequately meet the purposes and
To help in this after action process, some
seminar planners find that a questionnaire
evaluation by the participants at the close of a
seminar helps to identify the strong points and
the weaknesses of the program. It provides
them with an added "working tool" when planning for the next one.
Planning is the key to success. The designs
must be placed on the trestleboard carefully--
and revised--as needed.