Ah, the joys of leading a group — the delight of sharing a passion, imparting knowledge, helping others master a new skill!
But, oh, the pain of leading a group — the panic that comes when you see people dozing off, the cold sweat that breaks out when a participant, apropos of nothing, launches into a detailed monologue on her beloved hamster’s recent health crises.
Michele Granberg, owner of the Center for Relaxation and Healing at Plainsboro, has seen it all. She has a lifetime of experience in leading groups, and she shares her methods for conducting a group that will be memorable, in a good way, on Saturday, September 8, at 10:30 a.m. at the Center for Relaxation and Healing at Plainsboro, 666 Plainsboro Road, Suite 635. Cost for the half-day workshop, $42. Call 609-750-7432 to register.
Granberg was raised in Freehold, where her father worked for a drafting firm and her mother worked as an administrative assistant and later owned a business with her stepfather. A graduate of the College of New Jersey (Class of 1988) she also earned a master’s degree in counseling and psychology in 2000 at Goddard University in Vermont.
Before starting her business, which celebrates its 10th anniversary in October, Granberg worked for social service and mental health agencies, where she found herself drawn to group workshops and counseling sessions with adults.
“Workshops are my thing,” says Granberg, a South Brunswick resident who lives with her husband, Ron Granberg, a financial advisor. “Groups are my thing.”
For the past 25 years or so, Granberg has participated in groups, led groups, and, as the owner of a business that hosts upwards of three dozen group meetings a month, she has observed groups.
“I have gone to so many workshops,” she says. “I see lots of room for improvement.” In fact, she adds, “when I first started leading groups I thought I was pretty good. But when I look back, I cringe.”
Her biggest early failings? “I bored people,” she says. “I talked too much. I was not interactive.” But, she adds, “I just wanted to do it so badly.” Over time, she learned the techniques that turn the art of capturing a group’s attention into a more precise science:
Start the workshop before the workshop starts. “You have to grab people right away,” says Granberg. Greet arriving participants at the door. If it feels appropriate, touch each person lightly on the arm. Make eye contact. Learn and repeat first names. “You need to build immediate rapport,” she says.
Start strong. “Do not begin a group meeting with announcements,” says Granberg. “Don’t begin by telling your audience what the workshop is going to be about.” Launch right into the meat of your message. If you need to go back and fill in some details, fine. But first make sure that your audience is engaged.
Don’t talk at people. “It starts to sound like wah, wah, wah,” says Granberg, imitating the Peanuts cartoon soundtrack that comes on whenever an adult is shouting something at the kids. No matter how inherently fascinating the topic, group participants will zone out after just a few minutes of non-stop talk directed at them.
Yes, it’s natural to want to go on and on about your foolproof methods for achieving success in sales, or love, or nature photography, but stop yourself, says Granberg. Realize that your audience has a finite tolerance for being talked at.
Break it up. “You talk, then let them talk, then have an activity,” advises Granberg. People who actively participate in the group meeting will almost certainly come away feeling that they have gotten something out of it. Ask questions. Have participants paint, meditate, or practice the skill you are teaching.
Content is not king. “Get people to think, share, write,” says Granberg. “Use lots of examples. Content is important, but it is not the most important thing. It’s equally important to bring the material to life, to be engaging, compelling.”
Take charge. It’s essential to let the group know who’s in charge. As Granberg puts it, “I’m running the show here.” The group will relax knowing that there is an agenda and that there is a leader who will guide them through it and keep things on track.
Act quickly to prevent a hijack. Most groups have them — the long talkers, the downers, the experts. Given just a little bit of rope, these group side trackers will soon having other participants longing to head for the exits.
A compassionate woman, Granberg understands that the person who wants to stand up and talk — and talk and talk and talk — is very possibly lonely, probably not being listened to at home or work. But she knows that letting him ramble on endlessly will end all hope of a profitable group experience for the other participants.
“You realize that this person wants to be heard and acknowledged,” she says. “You give them a little of what they’re looking for. They can have the floor for two or three minutes. You can thank them, praise them, paraphrase them so they know they’ve been heard.” But then the talker needs to be stopped.
“Nip it in the bud,” says Granberg. “Take the meeting right back on track. Immediately.” As a last resort she will talk over the long talker.
Similar tactics work well with the expert, the participant who knows way more than anyone on earth about the workshop topic — and is very eager to share.
The downer may have less energy than the long talker or the expert, but can quickly sour the mood of the workshop.
He, too, must be cut short and then counteracted. After the gloomy participant is persuaded to end his remarks, says Granberg, “you have to bring the energy back up. Lift your voice, say something positive.”