Suggested formats for support group meetings
You may want to schedule your meetings on some regular basis (e.g. monthly), with casual “discussion” type meetings interspersed with more formal meetings where you invite a guest speaker to give a presentation. Below are some possible meeting formats and additional information on organizing a support group.
Invite a guest speaker
Start the meeting with a lecture; allow questions from the audience afterward.
Being a guest speaker at a meeting is one of the most important ways in which professionals can support self-help groups. Many different types of groups hold regular meetings where professionals address topics of interest. Doctors, therapists and other professionals are often willing to offer their time and expertise free of charge. Below is sample language that might be used to approach a potential guest speaker about presenting to your group:
“Our support group for people with vestibular disorders is interested in hearing about (fill in your topic). We understand that you have some experience in this area and we wonder if you would be willing to come talk to our group about this at one of the following meeting times: (provide two or three choices for dates/times in the future for them to consider). Please feel free to contact me with any questions at (fill in your phone number and/or e-mail address). We’re really looking forward to hearing back from you!”
Guest speakers are a key component to a group’s educational program. In a low-stress environment, they provide an opportunity for people to learn more about an illness, related medications, therapies, medical advances, and treatments. But as a support group facilitator, it is important that you help group members remember that the guest is not present to diagnose or treat. The professional is there to offer general information about a specific topic.
In preparation for a guest lecturer, try to invite the speakers at least two months in advance of a meeting. This will allow enough lead-time for the guest lecturer to block out the time, and will allow you enough time to announce the planned lecture to support group members. Sometimes it is easier for support group leaders to schedule several months’ worth of speakers at the same time. As the meeting approaches, contact the speakers in order to confirm that they know the location, date, and time of the meeting. This is also a good opportunity to ask if they will need any special equipment for their presentation, such as a slide projector.
Have a back-up plan in case a planned lecturer cancels at the last minute. This will reduce the stress for the support group facilitator and may also help minimize the degree of disappointment that members experience as a result of having organized their energy for the day, with the meeting in mind.
Group forum or discussion sessions
You may want to identify a topic of focus for a meeting and lead a discussion about it. Sometimes being in charge of leading a discussion can be daunting, but if you go to the meeting with a few key questions to pose to the group, you’ll find it easy to keep the session lively! For example, review this support-group leader’s outline for leading a meeting about understanding a vestibular disorder as an invisible chronic illness. VeDA welcomes other such outlines from support group leaders so that we might add them to our packet of helpful support group resources.
Discussion sessions can be addressed in a large group or by breaking the audience into smaller, problem-solving groups. Inform people about the meeting topic in advance of the meeting, and encourage them to think about questions they would like answered. Also, note that VeDA publishes announcements about various support group activities around the country and world. If you provide VeDA with enough advance notice, people who receive the newsletter, follow our Facebook discussions and/or visit our website can read about your upcoming events.
Show a DVD and discuss it afterward
DVD topics can range from pre-recorded lectures on a particular vestibular disorder to movies members of your group have identified as having meaning for them in relating to their experience of having problems with their balance, hearing, or other function associated with their vestibular disorder. This kind of casual activity can help the group relax and open up.
Have a social function
Organize a pot-luck lunch or dinner; a walk, a book group (Finding Balance, by Sue Hickey, might be a great starter book), etc. Social activities help the group bond and learn more about each other on a personal level.
Select an accessible meeting place with adjustable lighting, minimally distracting patterns (e.g., high-contrast wallpaper or mini-blinds) and background noise (e.g., echoing assembly halls or rooms not protected from traffic noise), safe footing, nearby restrooms, access to drinking water, and nearby parking. If you plan on showing a video or DVD during a meeting, ensure ahead of time that the meeting facility will provide the needed audio-visual equipment or a location and electrical outlet that allow you to set up your own equipment.
information to give to attendees
Have some of VeDA’s brochures on hand to distribute to people as a further source of information. Provide attendees with VeDA’s website URL and toll-free telephone number. For group attendees who might want more frequent contact than your group’s meeting schedule provides, be sure to tell them about VeDA’s online forum for members and social media pages. These resources offer the ability to exchange contact information so that participants can communicate directly with others who understand first-hand what it is like to experience the stages of seeking a diagnosis, finding effective treatment, and managing the personal impacts of a vestibular disorder.