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.

17 thoughts on “Questions: a thread through current work”

  1. I find reflection essential when I’m trying to be creative. A lot of reflection without interruption – the sort of thinking that makes you take walks in the woods or sit in your treehouse without a phone. My most creative times are marked with as much as a quarter of my time going for reflection.

    The list of comments on questions is great. One great speaker I know plays some interesting instrumental music (he brings his guitar) for three or four minutes at the end of his talks to give the audience some time to think. He generally finishes his talk by noting a few interesting questions that rephrase what he has said and then moves into the music directly. It is very effective. He tells me the first two minutes and the four minutes that follow the talk are the most important.

    One very successful conference I go to focuses the audience and speaker by not allowing powerpoint … there is a slate blackboard and chalk if you want to use it and you are allowed to project photos if they are just photos, but no more than one every 5 minutes. The talks are 20 to 30 minutes and the speakers are asked to accept questions at the 10 minute mark. Everyone in the conference is give a “halt” card which allows you to halt a talk at any point and have up to 5 minutes for whatever you want. You only get one card and can only use it once. Most people rarely use them, but they often present great insight.

  2. I will be back after some home work on palojono and enthnography which I picked up on from your (Nancy’s) reference to graphic recording in the mountains, perhaps the beginning of the Rockies, in central British Columbia

    See also some stuff at Wikipedia:

    John, John DeBruyn, Denver, where the High Plains meet the Rockies

  3. Nancy, you inspire me, as always to think a little deeper about many things and today you gave me pause for thought about the way we can more effectively engage an audience with ‘appreciative inquiry’ type questions. I really like the ‘tone’ of the way you’ve shaped palojorno’s questions to ask at a talk, to suit your purpose. This will help me shape some upcoming ‘talks’ from me.
    Steve, I really liked your story snippets of ‘good practice’ at other conferences – not planning to play music (or sing) at my next one, but definitely looking for ways of enabling interactivity with simple tools. I love the idea of ‘halt’ card and will now work on something along those lines.
    John, thanks so much for the ethnography links, I’m planning on exploring those today. Love the new word I’ve learned ‘Netnography’.

  4. Thanks Nancy for reminding me of the value of questions. I am reminded of Meg Wheatley’s questions…Who are we? Why have we come together? What can be different because of us/this?…

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