There are many good and simple techniques to ensure participation in a discussion. One of the simplest and best-known techniques involves the use of a talking piece. An item—often a small stick or a stone—is used to indicate who in the group has the opportunity to speak. The person holding the talking piece can speak for as long as he or she likes, and the responsibility of the other members of the group is to listen carefully. When the speaker is finished, the talking piece is passed to another person in the circle. It can move around the circle in any fashion, but everyone must have the opportunity to hold the talking piece and to speak or to pass.
A similar technique involves the use of pennies or other small objects. Everyone in the group is given the same number of pennies—typically one to three—at the beginning of the conversation. People can speak at any time, but must throw one penny into the center of the circle after speaking. When you run out of pennies, you cannot speak again until everyone has been given the opportunity to speak and the pennies are redistributed.
The Rev. Eric H. F. Laws, an Episcopal priest and founder of the Kaleidoscope Institute, has created resources to support inclusive and sustainable churches and communities. One of the techniques that he recommends is a discussion process of mutual invitation. The leader identifies a question and who will be the first person to respond to that question. When that person is finished talking, he or she pauses for a few moments of silence. The silence allows the group to listen more deeply to the speaker, rather than focusing on what they want to say. Then the speaker invites the next person to speak. It does not need to be the person seated next to the speaker. The next person can speak or pass. The one who is invited can speak or pass. When the second person is finished, he or she invites the next person after a brief silence. The process continues until everyone has been invited to speak and those who said, “Pass” are asked again if they have anything to share.