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How to Hold a Post-Screening Discussion
Moderating a discussion after a screening of Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home or The Witness can be a very positive experience -- one that can literally change lives. This guide offers some general suggestions as well as a number of specific discussion techniques to help you foster a dialogue that is engaging and rewarding for all. Every community is different and every discussion moderator has his or her own style. Hopefully this guide will open up new possibilities and stimulate your own creativity in adapting what is here to suit the specific needs of your audience.
Much of what follows was informed by feedback from people all over the world who have screened our films. We encourage you to send us your suggestions as well, so we can continue to enhance and improve this guide.
Your role as moderator
Watching a Tribe of Heart film is a powerful experience that takes the audience on a compelling journey of strong feelings and introspection. After seeing one of these films, many viewers may feel quite emotional and a bit vulnerable, as well as inspired. More than any specific information that you could possibly share with your audience at this time, what will help people the most is your unwavering respect and kindness as you invite them to discuss their viewing experience.
Your primary role as discussion moderator is to assist people in sharing their experiences with one another. Such sharing is comfortable for some but challenging for others, and your most important task is to set the tone for how audience members should listen and respond to each other. Being a model of kindness and respect at all times toward each individual, no matter what they say or how they say it, will make more of a difference than you might expect.
Never feel that you have to be the "expert" in these after-film discussions or that it is up to you to respond to each comment. If the audience speaks only to you and not to one another, an opportunity for creating community is missed. Therefore, it can be helpful to first acknowledge a comment or question, and then send it back out to the audience for discussion. Remember, you are best serving the audience members when you are fostering dialogue amongst them and not simply between each of them and you. That said, it is certainly fine to answer direct questions on topics about which you are knowledgeable, and to respond to someone’s reaction by sharing your own thoughts or feelings.
Post-film discussion, step by step
After the credits have finished rolling and the lights have been turned on, thank everyone for sharing the screening experience. Acknowledge that it is a powerful and thought-provoking film which evokes a multitude of responses. Tell them that you will now be handing out comment cards (find them here and here) for them to fill out, and that the purpose of having a discussion after the film is to give people a chance to explore and share their experience and hear how the film affected others. If you are using surveys, give the group five minutes or so to focus on writing their responses, and then begin the discussion. If you are using comment cards, which call for much briefer responses and questions, you can begin the discussion as soon as you notice that many in the room have stopped writing down their thoughts.
Invite the group to share any comments, questions, or reactions to the film that they had. If no one speaks up right away, wait 15 seconds or so. If still no one is ready to start, you can get the ball rolling by briefly sharing something about your own experience with the film. Topics might include your reaction to the film when you first saw it, or what people have shared with you from other screenings of the film, the latest news about the film from the Tribe of Heart website, etc. Generally speaking, people become less shy about asking questions or making comments once the discussion is underway.
When you are a few minutes into the discussion, you can ask people who have finished with their comment cards to hold them up, and have your volunteers collect them and bring them down to the front. You can then quickly scan through them, pausing to share an insightful or heartfelt comment, to answer a question, or pose a question to the group.
When the discussion has run its course and begins to lose momentum, thank everyone for their sharing. If possible, tell them one thing that you will honestly, genuinely take from the discussion, such as, "I feel honored to be among such compassionate, open-minded people," or, "Some of these questions that you posed were so interesting and I am going to take them with me and give them much more thoughtthank you."
Point out that many people may want to learn more about the issues and what they can do to help, and direct them to the Tribe of Heart screening handout and Peaceable Journey web resource for more information.
Thank everyone again for coming and tell them where to go for vegan refreshments if you are serving them.
1. Pre-film exercise
In some settings, creating a sense of connection amongst audience members before the film begins can be helpful. Since people are likely to feel emotional while watching the film, connections made to other audience members ahead of time can deepen the shared experience and enhance the feeling of community afterwards.
An easy and effective way to get audience members connecting before the film is to ask each person to partner up with someone near to them that they don’t know, introduce themselves with first name only, and take 1-2 minutes to talk about an animal who has been important to them in their life. Explain to them that many people have had positive and meaningful experiences with a companion animal, an animal on a farm, a wild animal, or even an animal portrayed in a book, movie or television show, and that we are often not aware of how important these experiences are in our lives. Ask them to reflect for a moment on this question, and then to tell their partner about this animal and how the experience made an impact on their life. After 1-2 minutes, have them switch and let the other person do the same. You may well find that it is hard to get people to stop talking at the end of the allotted time!
This is a variation of the standard post-film discussion in which pairs of people discuss their experience as a prelude to a large group discussion. It is a good strategy for medium and larger size groups in which some people might not have a chance, or the sense of comfort, to immediately share their reactions with the whole group. Ask each person to pair up with a partner. If chairs are moveable, they can sit facing their partner. Explain that first one person in the pair will share their thoughts, feelings, and questions about the film for two minutes. During this time, the partner's role is just to listen and make no comments. What is said is to be kept confidential between the two. You will tell the pairs when to start sharing and at the end of two minutes, you will let them know that it is time to switch roles. During the second sharing, they are not to comment on what the other person said, but rather to share their own thoughts, feelings, and questions.
As an extension, after both sharing sessions have occurred, you can suggest a 3-minute session for the partners to dialogue. Or you can skip this step. Then, have everyone come together again as a whole group and ask people to share their own comments or questions, but not their partner’s.
3. "And the survey says..."
Younger audiences or those not accustomed to sharing personal experiences in groups can be helped by writing out their reactions first. Writing allows them to organize and process their thoughts before they move on to a discussion. Hand out printed copies of the survey (Peaceable Kingdom survey here, Witness survey here), and a pen for all participants. Give them about 5-7 minutes to write out their reactions.
After they finish writing, start out the discussion by inviting participants to share their experience of the film. Validate their comments, and ask if others had similar or different reactions. When you notice similar reactions, point out that some reactions are widely experienced by audiences; when you notice very different reactions, point out that the film can evoke diverse responses from viewers, that each response is valid and valued, and that it is fascinating and important to learn from one another.
If the open-ended format does not result in spontaneous comments, or if the discussion "dies out," then ask a specific question from the survey and invite people to share what they wrote. You can simply move down the survey asking each question and then asking people to share their responses. Be sure to validate responses that are offered. You can do this by saying, (as long as it is true for you) "yes," "I understand what you're saying," "that makes sense," "thank you for sharing that," "yes, I felt that also," "do others share that feeling?" and "I see why you would feel that way," for example. These small comments can really help people to open up more.
4. Sacred object circle
This technique is most suited for a classroom, workshop, or religious/spiritual group. It is best for groups of 30 or smaller.
Everyone sits in a circle, either in chairs or on the floor. Choose an object that can be easily held and passed around among group members, and one that has some special significance. Among Native American groups, a sacred "talking stick" is often the object of choice. The special object is passed around, and each person speaks his or her truth while holding it. The special object can start in the center, be picked up by each person as they decide to speak, and then returned to the center for whomever will speak next, or it can be given to one person to start and then passed around the circle from person to person. No one speaks unless it is their turn to hold the sacred object. Those who choose not to speak in the moment can simply pass the sacred object to the next person -- with smaller groups, they will have a second or even third opportunity to speak when the object comes around again.
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Table of Contents
- Your role as moderator
- Post-film discussion
- Creative variations
Lulls: When there is a lull, wait 30 seconds or so. Respect the silence, even though it can be challenging. Silences are not empty spaces, but fertile gaps that allow people to gather their thoughts and the courage to speak
Off-track comment: If someone begins a subject that seems quite off track, note that it is an interesting point/question, and invite them to discuss it with you in greater detail afterwards. Don’t lose the attention of the group by being too polite to address someone who is shutting down open dialogue.
Challenging question: If you are asked a question about the film or an animal issue that you don’t know the answer to, be willing to say, "I don’t know -- does anyone else have thoughts?" The ethical issues of the human-animal relationship are complex, and the implications and details of how our society exploits animals are vast. No one of us has all the answers, and each of us has an important piece of the solution. It is the mark of a good moderator to turn questions back to the group for discussion when appropriate. You don't have to be an expert on all the issues to do a good job as moderator.
BUT WHAT IF THIS HAPPENS?!
Moderators tend to imagine three "worst case scenarios" that they fear will occur at their screening. The first is that no one will speak, and you will have to just stand there looking awkward. The second is that someone will be distraught and you won’t know what to do in response. The third is that an audience member will be "difficult" or confrontational.
The most important thing to know is that these scenarios rarely occur at screenings of Tribe of Heart films. But just in case, here are some strategies for those who wish to be prepared.
Challenging scenario #1:
No one will talk
If folks are having a hard time talking, it is likely due to one of two reasons: either they need a little time to process the film and will be able to talk in a few minutes, or they feel uncomfortable sharing personal reactions with people they don’t know.
This is where comment cards or surveys will save the day. After people have had some time to collect their thoughts and express them in writing, they are usually ready to talk. And if things are still quiet, you can simply collect their comments and questions, and read selected parts to the group to stimulate dialogue.
It can be helpful to acknowledge to your audience that the film is emotionally powerful and that groups often need a few minutes to take in the experience and collect their thoughts before a dialogue can begin. Ask them if that is what is needed. If you get some nods, or some "yes" responses, validate that need by telling them that you also needed some time to process the film after you first saw it, and then give them a moment.
If, however, you ask them if they need some time and they just stare at you blankly or shake their heads "no," then assume that there is some hesitance to share deep feelings in front of others.
Challenging scenario #2:
An audience member is distraught
The thing to remember here is that the expression of strong emotions is not in itself dangerous or problematic, though in our society we are often given the message that it is. Strong emotions naturally arise when people feel deeply moved and when their beliefs are challenged.
It's not your responsibility to "fix the situation" or make the person feel something different than they are feeling. The best thing that you can offer is patient listening and an attitude of, "Yes, it makes sense that you would be feeling those feelings." It can also be good to point out that there are so many issues in the world that are hard to take on as an individual, and that’s why we need to share these experiences and give each other support in a community setting.
If the distressed person wants to share their feelings, let them do so, and then ask if anyone else feels similarly or would like to comment on what has been said. If they prefer not to talk, respect that, let them know that talking in public isn’t for everyone but that talking about their experience with someone is essential, and suggest that they might like to do so later with a friend or family member in private.
Challenging scenario #3:
Difficult or confrontational audience member
Very rarely, an audience member will ask a long, complex question that is impossible to address, offer comments that seem to ramble on and go off topic, direct an inappropriate level of anger or irritation at the moderator or another audience member, or use the forum as an opportunity to lobby for their personal agenda in a way that stops discussion of viewers’ experience of the film.
Options for dealing with this include:
a. Thank them for their contribution and offer to continue discussing their point afterwards. If need be, explain that there are others who might like to speak, and since there is limited time for group discussion you will be moving on.
b. Suggest that the person hang around after the discussion so that interested folks can speak to them about this issue further.
c. Acknowledge that the film explores difficult, controversial issues, and it is natural for the viewing experience to bring up strong feelings -- that even people who have been studying the ethics of the human-animal relationship for many years struggle to find answers to some of the questions being raised.