How To Be A Good Guide

This guide is here to help guides understand what they’re supposed to do, and some tips we’ve found are helpful for keeping a guided conversation on track.


For an hour-long guided conversation, which is what we recommend for most topics, we would expect each topic to have between 10 and 13 questions. Before your conversation, write each question on a separate index card, in the order which has been decided. It’s usually sensible to number them too, in case they get dropped.

Additionally, take a sharpie and some blank index cards for questions you spot as the conversation progresses.


As people are seated, check that everyone can see each other and, because it aids participants ability to hear each other, they’re in a roughly circular formation. Ask people to move, if necessary.

Time to get started

We’d advise you to introduce yourself and the topic (“Hello, I’m Gary and I’m going to be guiding this conversation on TDD”), and then immediately asking the first question. If appropriate then consider going around and doing individual introductions (“Hello my name is X and my role is Y”).


As mentioned each guided conversation is usually an hour long. Given that tight limit, we’d recommend using your phone’s timer to timebox each question to a maximum of 8 minutes. While a question might be getting some good conversation, it’s also important to get a little more variety by working through more of your questions.

Some questions will naturally run a little longer and a little shorter, but the main concern is keeping people engaged.

Making Sure People are Engaged

Ensuring people are engaged in the conversation is really what being a guide is all about. Primarily, that’s done through asking the right questions at the right time. It’s up to you to keep the conversational flow going.

Don’t worry too much if a question goes a little over the timebox, but don’t let one question become the entire discussion. Conversely, don’t worry too much if a question isn’t getting too much traction. Early questions in particular often feel a little staccato while the participants find something they want to discuss deeper. You likely won’t get through every question, and that’s okay. Don’t rush.

Try to watch people’s body language. If a number of people are looking down or being distracted, it might be that they’re no longer engaged in the conversation even if one or two people are still debating back-and-forth.

Try to ensure it’s not the same few people speaking. Not everyone will speak as much, and that’s fine, but it’s okay to stop a frequent speaker if someone who has been quieter is trying to speak. A simple open palmed raised hand at one person and a gentle motion towards the other (like a point) is usually enough. Encourage people by asking “Does anyone who hasn’t had a chance to speak want to speak about this?”.

Making Sure People Understand

As the conversation progresses, try to be aware of how much people are likely to understand what is being said. Concepts and ideas that are being discussed might seem obvious to someone who has heard them before, but to a beginner it might be what loses them. Take the time to ensure people understand the conversation at a reasonable level by interjecting small questions.

An example of this might be a conversation on Agile processes in which people refer to "Three Amigos". Simply and quickly saying, "Can we explain what Three Amigos is, for those that might not have heard the term?", is often enough.

Help Enforce Your Code of Conduct

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, many events have a Code of Conduct. If you think someone is violating the code of conduct during your conversation, please ask them politely to stop and remind them of the code of conduct. If they don’t or you think it is more serious than that, don’t hesitate to intervene.

How to be a good guide How to create a good question set Example question sets

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

The history of Guided Conversations | RSS