Setting the Room: Navigating Logistics & Setting Up a Conversation


Use the following materials to help you outline a plan for recruiting participants and partners for your conversation, prepare for necessary logistics, and identify supporting roles to keep your conversation running smoothly.

Click here to access the Conversation Planning Tool (pdf) for this module (What's this?)

Please watch our short introduction video below.

Framing Your Topic

In addition to choosing your topic, you also need to consider the way you frame it.

Framing involves carefully wording your conversation topic and questions to be welcoming to people with a variety of perspectives. When community members read a well framed topic, they should feel like they are welcomed and valued, no matter their stance on the issue.

For many programs, your topic will be light or neutral, and you won't have to think much about framing. For example, the topics for your book club conversations may not need much framing. But for tougher topics, how something is worded is critical. Community conversations about contentious issues need to be framed well.

So how do you frame? Go back to your work around choosing a topic. As you considered your topic, you thought about who you might need to talk with to make sure you have the right topic. These individuals and organizations can also provide insights into the framing.

Check with others about the wording you are thinking of using for your topic and even the questions you might pose to participants. They can offer feedback on whether the topic sounds one-sided or if the wording might have a different meaning to others in the community. Use that important feedback to revise, and check with them again.

For instance, if you are hosting a conversation to engage an underserved segment of your community, a topic framed by someone who is not a member of that population may not resonate with your intended audience. By working with a diverse group to determine and frame your topic for discussion, the conversation is more likely to be a success with all community members.

What are characteristics of good framing?

Characteristics of Good Framing

  • the topic is recognized as a broad concern within the community
  • the topic has no clear or "right" answers
  • the topic is one community members have not had the opportunity to consider different courses of action
  • the topic is worded openly enough for different community members to see value in participating in conversation

Characteristics of Bad Framing

  • the topic is technical or requires a technical solution
  • the topic or question can be responded to with a "yes" or "no" answer
  • the topic has already been decided on
  • the topic is relevant to only a narrow group
  • the topic is worded in a way that implies a bias or suggests your library is advocating for a particular approach

Adapted from Framing Issues for Public Deliberation, Kettering, 2001

Setting the Table for a Discussion

Having a successful discussion first requires getting the right people to attend. In the following video, library workers describe strategies for marketing and outreach of their conversations and events.

Who should have a seat at the table?

When you are planning for your event, consider the people you want to participate. This may vary based on the topic you choose and your goal(s). Similarly, when preparing outreach materials, you will want to consider the framing of the topic. How will the framing you use be viewed by the groups you want to reach? Refer back to the previous section for tips on how to frame your topic.

When it is important to have a diversity of opinions or experiences, outreach to a variety of populations in the community will be important. Consider the best methods for reaching different groups in your community. Will flyers work, and where can you post them? What websites do people visit frequently? What other events might coincide? Community partners can help you to get people in the room.

Below are suggestions for outreach. Click the plus sign to read more about each approach.


Hang copies on community bulletin boards, in coffee shops, rec centers, bars -- anywhere people gather.

Newsletters and Emails

Think beyond your library email list to your county, school district, parent-teacher organization, or chamber of commerce. Think about how you can reciprocate by offering these organizations space to advertise to library patrons.

Website Postings

These include calendars, announcements, events pages. Getting listed in a community calendar is great, but don't be afraid to ask for prime placement on a homepage, where you'll get more viewers.

Announcements at Other Events

Whenever there is a captive audience (inside or outside the library), take the opportunity to plug your upcoming conversation. This goes for library programs but also council meetings. potlucks, community events, church gatherings, school board meetings, etc.

Social Media Channels

You'll definitely want to post to your library's social media channels, but don't forget about other popular virtual spots. If your community has an active mom's group on Facebook or a popular Instagram account that shares nostalgic photos of your town, ask if you can join the group or see if the owner will post on your behalf.

Press Releases or Other Media Outreach

Don't get too caught up in perfect press release protocol. If you know your local newspaper owner or someone who runs a popular blog in town, reach out to them about your event. Attach a Word document that explains the basics of your discussion, and keep it short. The goal is to provide them a write-up that they don't have to spend too much effort rewriting.


While press releases cover the basic "who, what, when" of an event, an op-ed can have a little more personality. Writing from your own voice as a library worker, explain why you think your discussion topic is important to the community.

Partners: Your Best Marketing Tool

You don't have to do this alone! In Module Two, we discussed how strong partners can help you reach your community and conversation goals. Partners can also be your most effective marketing tool. Below are some considerations to keep in mind when thinking about potential partners:

  • Partnering helps share the work of recruitment. It does not need to be the sole role of the library to convene. Working with partners helps to share this work and ensures that those in the community who have an interest or stake in the topic are welcome to participate.
  • Partners can include individuals, organizations, schools, and more. They are anyone who can reach the audiences you want to invite into your conversation. That said, consider potential partners’ openness to conversation. Bringing in partners who advocate for one particular outcome can impede a conversation with the goal of examining different possibilities for addressing an issue. Making sure your partners value dialogue and community involvement in exploring or deciding on an issue will help create the right environment for your conversation.
  • Look back at your prompts from Module Two for considering your partners. The partners you named to help with framing your topic may likely be great co-conveners, as well.

Creating a Communications Plan

When drafting a plan to get the word out about your conversation, it’s important to consider format, the ideal timing for various marketing approaches, and who will be involved in communicating about the conversation. Below is an example of a communications plan. Click the circle markers on the image to read more tips as you think about drafting your own plan.


Click here for a blank version of this communications plan.

On your Conversation Planning Tool, use page 2 to brainstorm ideas:

How will you communicate about your conversation so that people understand the goals?
What formats will you use to market the discussion?
On page 3, use the blank communications plan to outline your plan for recruiting participants for your event.

Keeping Things Running Smoothly

In the following video, you will hear from library workers about how they keep things on track during their conversations.

Tasks for Supporting a Conversation

In addition to facilitating the conversation, there are several tasks that you or others may take on to support your conversation. In some instances you may not need all of the below tasks, or all tasks may be able to be handled by one person. Your goals and your partners may help you determine this.

  • Logistics: manage the location, set-up, and materials.
  • Communications: develop communications about the event for publicizing or informing potential participants, and manage follow-up with participants or broader communications about the conversation and its outcome.
  • Timekeeping: use the agenda to keep track of time and ensure each topic or question is given adequate time for discussion.
  • Recording: take notes during the conversation to capture input, ideas, decisions, etc.

Even if they aren't obvious, many tasks go into running a smooth event.


A facilitator can take on these roles or can recruit others to assist. In some situations, you may wish to work with a co-facilitator. Working with a co-facilitator can allow for sharing of some roles (alternating roles as facilitator or recorder, for instance). Your co-facilitator may be someone from the community or even a partner organization. Consider your comfort level with these roles to determine what you may want to take on and what you may wish to recruit assistance for.

On your Conversation Planning Tool, use the template provided on page 4 to plan and recruit for logistics and supporting roles.

Crafting an Agenda

Before creating an agenda, consider the goal(s) and topic that you outlined in Module Two as well as page 15 of the Facilitation Guide. What are the questions you want participants to respond to or discuss? What steps might they need to take in the conversation in order to reach decisions? Thinking through how the conversation will need to flow will help with setting a structure and assigning roles.

Below are descriptions of conversation structures for a variety of purposes. Note: If you are trying facilitation for the first time, a basic sample agenda will be detailed later in this section. You are encouraged to review all of the examples and decide which may work best for you and your community. Click the plus symbols on the accordions below to read about each type of conversation and see example structures.


For exploratory conversations, typically you want to pose a couple of questions to help guide the conversation. What is it that you want to have participants discuss? Consider asking them about personal experiences with the topic, their thoughts or reactions to the book or materials shared in advance, or ideas they have for how to address a topic or issue.


Conversation topic: Being a welcoming community

Conversation Structure:

  • Welcome: introduction of the topic, group norms, and structure for the conversation
  • Round 1: Share an experience where you felt welcome in this community
  • Round 2: What does it mean to be a welcoming community?
  • Round 3: What could we do together to create a welcoming community?
  • Closing: Report outs (if conversations happened in small groups), discussion of next steps or next conversation

Click here to see a sample agenda for an exploratory conversation.


When it comes to decision-making or collaborative action, your conversations will need to move from exploring ideas or examining options, to determining what people are willing to do together.


Conversation topic: Addressing food access

Conversation Structure:

  • Welcome: Introduction of the topic, ground rules, agenda
  • Opening question: What concerns do you have about food access in our community?
  • Discussion: How might we address these concerns?
  • Gallery walk: Participants review the ideas shared in the discussion
  • Breakouts: People propose approaches they want to discuss with others, participants choose groups they want to be a part of
  • Report outs: What did the groups determine is the most important step to take in their approach? Who needs to be involved?
  • Reflection: What do we still need to discuss? What will be the group's next steps?

Click here to see a sample agenda for a decision-making conversation.

Conflict Transforming

In conflict transforming conversations, you want to build human connection. What questions can you ask to get people to listen to and connect with one another? Think about common interests and experiences. Then move to discussing the conflict.


Conversation topic: Building interfaith connections

Conversation Structure:

  • Welcome: Topic, ground rules
  • Icebreaker: Participants share with each other their favorite band, movie, food, etc.
  • In pairs or small groups: Each person shares a story about themselves, such as “what is your experience with faith?” or “When have you most felt welcomed by others who have a different faith?”
  • In large group: Discuss: What did you realize from listening to others? What did it feel like to be listened to?
  • Closing circle: One word to describe what you are taking with you

Click here to see a sample agenda for a conflict transforming conversation.

These conversation structures do not need to be uniquely crafted. There are many models for conversation you can adapt or draw inspiration from. If you want to take a deeper dive into various models available for structuring a conversation, see the NCDD Engagement Streams Framework for further information.

Sample Basic Agenda

As you build your conversation structure, charting it out will help you to organize your time, questions, and tasks. Below is a basic conversation agenda using a book club discussion as the example, something you may already have experience with. Look at this agenda with the best practices in facilitation and planning that you have been learning.

sample conversation planning agenda

On your Conversation Planning Tool, use the template to begin building your draft agenda.

Module Resources

In Module Two, you learned how to select a topic and determine a goal for your conversation. Module Three expanded on this by introducing you to how to frame your topic and what logistics you should prepare prior to the conversation.

You now have all the building blocks needed to organize your first conversation. And remember, you don’t need to do this all alone! Partners, including library patrons, community organizations, and other institutions, can help many of the logistics explored in this module.

Keep the following resources with you as you continue to learn:

If you are a beginner to this work, the following resources provided throughout the module are the best ones to use as building blocks to organize your first conversation:

After you’ve lead your first conversation, the following resources may be helpful to refer back to as you seek to further build your facilitation skills:

Next Section: Leading A Conversation