Questions: a thread through current work

Life has been a whirlwind of work. Keynote and workshops for the Girl Scouts of America Leadership and Development Conference,  iterative design work on a bunch of client projects, from planning to post-event evaluation, a large global e-consultation followed by a large face to face decision making meeting, and coming up this week a lovely two day graphic recording/facilitation workshop up in the mountains of Central British Columbia.

While whirlwinds are deep experiential times, they leave little for reflection (including blogging). This morning I took a few moments before ramping up to full production mode and I was skimming my blog feeds.

I love Palojono, the blog of Jono,  a designer who is a great writer and visual thinker.Jono helped me reflect, to see the thread through my current work. My practice right now is very focused on using questions. We have really spent a lot of time designing the questions that sit underneath consultations and meetings. I build questions into my talks. Thank you Jono, and here are some of your tips I’d like to share out and amplify with my network. His are related to giving a talk, but as I read them, I could easily pull them into other contexts.

via palojono: Asking great questions at talks.

Great questions…
1. Build a relationship between you and the speaker
A good question is an effective way of telling someone, yes, I get it, and what’s more this is interesting to me. It allows them to recognize you and increases the chance and ease of meeting up after a talk to discuss in more depth through the common ground created.
2. Let other’s know who you are
Asking a question in a room of strangers is an opportunity to share a little of yourself, what you’re interested in, who you are, and what you know about the subject. On many occasions, strangers have introduced themselves to me after a talk simply because I asked a question. In case you can’t tell, I think great questions are a great networking tool. (Nancy’s Note: relationships, trust, “entry doors…”)
3. Start conversations
In very many talks there is as much to be learned from the audience as the speaker. Asking a great question invites others to chime in and start a natural dialogue that is often more revealing than any prepared presentation. (Nancy’s NoteThen shut up and listen! ListenNote?)
4. Buy others time
There are many times when the bell sounds on a talk and “Any questions?” shoots round the room before I’ve barely had a chance to process the last thing that was said. A first question plays the invaluable role of giving others a little chance to think about what they want to ask once the speaker has finished. Sometimes we just need a little processing time before we’re ready to share. (Nancy’s Note: the basis of improvisation – make the other person look good!)
5. Relate the content to what you care about
Questions beget answers. Many people forget that a question of a speaker really allows you to learn an answer to your situation. When it’s a talented and experienced speaker it’s really an incredible opportunity. A great question plays the useful function of steering the talk towards what’s more relevant to you. (Nancy’s Note: from a communities of practice perspective, this hooks into the importance of finding shared domain!)
6. Force you to engage in the talk
Challenging yourself to think of great questions also forces you to think through the content of the talk and compare it to what you already know. It’s too easy to let a good talk wash over you, and a bad talk not even enter. I typically write a big question mark in the corner of my page at the start of a talk and use it as the seed for a question mindmap. Setting myself the responsibility of asking a great question means I not only have to pay attention, but I have to think critically about the talk all the way through. What a great cheap way to max out your value.