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In class: Taking the floor

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Note: In a formal discussion only one person is supposed to speak at a time, and while they are speaking everyone else should be listening. We say the person who is speaking "has the floor". This expression comes from very formal meetings (e.g., in Parliament) where each person stands up (on the floor) to address the other people present, and sits down when they finish.

So when you get everyone's attention and start speaking, we say you "take the floor".

Body language

Watch what other people do when they are speaking, and make yourself familiar with the verbal and physical cues which tell you that a speaker is preparing to finish speaking. These cues will help you to know when to get ready to talk or when to start an interruption.

Make eye contact with the person managing the discussion, and when you have something to say, use your hand to let them know. Leaning forward in your seat can also serve as a signal that you wish to speak. Observe what body language other students in the group use to signal that they wish to speak.

Sitting opposite the tutor or 'chairperson' may make it easier to signal your interest in speaking. Sitting behind other people, or right at the back of the room, will definitely make it much harder.

What to say

Think about the language to use when you take the floor in a discussion.

Interrupting

Think of the discussion as a busy highway, and you as a driver waiting to enter from a side street. Often in order to force your way into the traffic, you need to pull out in front of another car – it is not always possible to simply wait for the traffic to stop to let you in.

There are times when you need to break in while someone else is speaking in order to make an important point. It is not rude to do that if you use suitable language. Here are some appropriate phrases to use when you want to interrupt someone else who has the floor.

Signalling an intention to say something

  • "[NAME], could I ask a question?"
  • "Excuse me, I've got a question I'd like to ask…"
  • "I wonder if anyone could tell me…"
  • "Can I comment at this point…"
  • "I'd like to comment on that."
  • "If I could make a comment…"
  • "We haven't really considered…"
  • "I think we need to consider…"
  • "One thing I'd like to mention…"

Language for interrupting

  • "Excuse me, [NAME] – I'm sorry to interrupt you, but…"
  • "Can I cut in here…"
  • "Can I stop you there for a moment…"
  • "If I could come in here…"
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