Guide for Discussion Leaders
This is a good type of presentation when an individual who is an “expert” and a strong public speaker can be secured for the meeting. If a series of such forums are to be planned, it will be necessary in all probability to call upon a different speaker for each occasion. Sometimes it may be possible to invite such speakers from nearby universities or professional and other local associations. Often competent specialists may be found among the officers and men of the command.
The single-speaker forum has the disadvantage of presenting for consideration only one point of view-that of the speaker. An occasional speaker may try to explain various positions that may be taken on the basis of the known facts which he outlines. It is nevertheless difficult for him, in spite of the most conscientious effort, to avoid stressing his own point of view more than others. If the audience or any sizable fraction of it fails to agree with him, what follows the speech is apt to be a battle of wits. Such a battle may try the skill and good humor of both the speaker and the leader-chairman.
A second disadvantage of the single-speaker forum is that the meeting is based on a lecture. Men hear so many of these that only the best of them get across. This is not to say that the single-speaker forum is a poor method. With the right speaker and under a competent chairman, it can be highly stimulating to the thinking of the audience.
The functions of the leader or moderator of a forum consist of the following:
(1) To prepare himself in advance on the subject.
(2) To inform the audience about forum procedure—how long the speaker will talk, when the audience may ask questions, what kinds of questions will be recognized by the moderator, and how long the question period will last. (An address of twenty to thirty minutes and a question period of about twenty minutes are recommended.)
(3) To introduce the speaker, explaining why he has been invited to speak and stating the question which he will discuss. (It is important to tell the audience what point of view toward the question is represented by the speaker.)
(4) To assure good questioning from the floor. (Three or four individuals may be planted with specific questions in the audience. Or signed, written questions may be solicited in advance. The first suggestion fits naturally into the question period; the second is likely to make the forum cut-and-dried, though it is sometimes useful.)
(5) To recognize questioners in parliamentary fashion and to restate suitable questions for the speaker. (Acceptable questions ask for additional facts, for an elaboration or explanation of some statement already made, or for an expression of opinion.)
(6) To train the audience to stick to the point and to be tolerant of opinions contrary to their own.
Two types of audience members are likely to require special handling by the moderator. The man who tries to make a speech in the guise of a question may be stopped by a request to re-phrase his question briefly. The man who merely paraphrases what the speaker has already said for the sake of hearing him-self talk should be interrupted with a remark that his statement has been covered by the speaker. In general the moderator will have to help the audience understand its part by recognizing relevant questions and praising unusually good ones.