How to Host an Intentional Discussion

How to Host an Intentional Discussion

A few weeks ago I watched a documentary called Earthlings. It truly moved me in a way that no documentary had before. So much so, that while watching it at a coffee shop, I cried.

It is a powerful documentary. And while I was glad I watched it, I suddenly felt alone. It called to question many of my very basic instincts and beliefs. I needed to talk about it.

I brought it up over a few beers with friends, but it was a complete failure. They hadn’t seen the documentary and just couldn’t relate. They attacked the basic premise of the film which I was still struggling to articulate.

So after two somewhat miserable weeks, I decided to host an “intentional discussion.” The premise was to invite friends to watch the documentary and then gather over drinks and discuss.

I was apprehensive when I sent the invitation, but was quickly reassured when most people opted in immediately. In the end, eight people took the two hours to watch the documentary, then we gathered for two hours and discussed the movie. It was a powerful conversation and the first time I felt I was able to effectively articulate how the film had affected my views.

This was the first message I received after it was over:


Around the table, we had fundamentally different views on issues that the film raised, but we all enjoyed the discussion, and improved as people and friends for the shared experience and discussion.

I still cry every time I watch the documentary, but I no longer feel alone in my thoughts – and that’s empowering.

Next time you watch a meaningful documentary, I’d highly encourage you to bring your friends together afterwards to talk about it.

Tips for leading an intentional discussion: Thinking back on this experience, here are the four things that made this a success.

1. A Good Invitation: This was the email I originally sent:

2. An Easy to Watch Documentary: The documentary was available online, so it was very easy for people to watch. I sent them a link directly to the movie.

3. A Facilitated Agenda: I took an active role in facilitating the discussion. We agreed on the following conversation flow:

  • Roundtable 1: Each person answered the question “What is my current relationship with Animals?” [no questions allowed]
  • Roundtable 2: Each person answered the question “What were my impressions of the film?” [no questions allowed]
  • Open Conversation: We then had a free discussion where people could ask questions and discuss openly.
  • Roundtable 3: Each person then answered the question “What other issues of morality do you struggle with, and how have you resolved them?”
September 25, 2012