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18 Aug 2014

Initiating Questions and Comments in Group Interactions

This entry is part 4 of 9 in the series Leveraging Group Interactions

Leveraging group interactions to mold relationships and culture.

Leveraging group interactions to mold relationships and culture

Questions and comments in group interactions attack the relational challenges these interactions create. They can occur at any time during the interaction, even the beginning. Getting the first one is most important. It can open the dam. Receiving them though is another matter. Saying, “I encourage questions in this meeting” or “Feel free to ask questions,” doesn’t cut it. People want proof that we want their questions and comments.

First, we allow plenty of time for questions, even a ridiculous amount. Leaving only a few minutes isn’t proof we want questions. If there aren’t any, we end the interaction regardless of time remaining especially if we will have further interactions with the same group.

Second, we must discipline ourselves to wait when we ask, as much as thirty seconds if need be. Meanwhile, we don’t look at our notes or around the room. We look at the people. Their eyes are best. How can we be sincere about their questions if we’re not even looking for them?

Third, we can frame our request to show appreciation and ask for their help such as:

I’m done with my remarks. The remaining time is for addressing other points through your questions. I’d appreciate someone getting us started by asking or commenting about something that he found interesting.

 Here, we’ve embedded four themes:

  • Appreciation for questions
  • Questions help us
  • Being the one
  • More

People feel good when they help especially if we appreciate it. We give special appreciation to the first one who helps by being the initiator. We recognize that the first question is very important. Finally, we suggest that there is more, if they ask.

Seen from another perspective, we are allowing others to make this presentation, meeting or other group interaction theirs not ours.


Series Navigation<< Attacking Relational Challenges in Group InteractionsEncouraging More Questions in Group Interactions >>

6 Responses

  1. Great advice, Mike! As an educator, it is so very important to get the students in this case engaged and asking questions is so very important. I particularly like ending things if no questions. For the classroom, I’m wondering if not dismissing but having them work with their team might have the same impact? Also wondering if maybe a one-minute “quiz” from the last class’ lack of questions might help get questions rolling?

    I’ve pretty much decided saying nothing about when to ask questions (during vs. after) – deciding that might eliminate the spontaneity. I do ask questions of a very fundamental level (key points) even though I wonder how that impacts the “flow” of the session.

    1. Mike Lehr

      Both of those are great ideas, John. What I do on occasions is solicit questions at the beginning “so as to tailor my comments and elaboration to help you the most.” I have even distributed menus of questions by positioning them as “these are some questions that others have had.” I then ask them to pick a question from the menu. All of this is to imply that I have more information than can be delivered in the allocated time so “your help in helping me help you is appreciated.”

      Your points about flow are valid and does require the presenter to be comfortable with extemporizing. I do find it very possible to take questions and gradually incorporate the material I believe I must cover. This means effective use of transitions and finding connections among a series of questions. Of course, this will likely produce a different flow than I had intended, but I look at it as sailing. I have a destination but depending upon how the winds (the questions) are blowing the actual path I take will vary. Still, it puts much on the presenter, but I find it well worth the effort.

      I’ve also found that PowerPoint does not lend itself well to the kind of Q&A I’m recommending. PowerPoint itself constricts spontaneity by participants feeling they need to keep their questions to whatever slide is showing. I often use flip-charts, whiteboards, etc. that will allow more flexibility. I’ve even used them in conjunction with PowerPoint. Still, for larger audiences, I usually have a cheat sheet that references my slide numbers on PowerPoint, so when a question comes up I can go directly to a corresponding slide (i.e. type slide number then “enter”) if it helps. I absolutely abhor and find it harmful to my recommendations to say something such as, “I’ll be getting to that question in a bit. Do you mind if we hold that thought?” While confusing for some participants (because if they take notes on the PowerPoint handouts they have to jump around), what I do at the end as a summary is run very quickly through the slides chronologically tying everything together. This takes some discipline of course because one can easily get bogged down in a slide and retell everything which isn’t a summary!

      Again, thank you for your questions and insights, John.

      1. I’ve always wanted to try one of the programs that allow me to “write” on my prepared slides, ideally saving the annotated slides and making them available to those wanting them – but haven’t, mostly because I’ve not found the right vehicle.

        I’m also thinking about a short video with optional “paths” for the discussion – done with hand-written slides done in real time.

        1. Mike Lehr

          John, I’ve seen programs similar to those you mention. What are the functions you seek that cause you to find them wanting? Would you mind elaborating on your video idea? Are the optional paths created prior to presenting or during? Are the optional paths video or hand-written slides?

  2. Hi Mike

    You’ve presented some great insights into one of the critical skills for a leader to develop – facilitation. As you note in your conclusion, the meeting isn’t owned by the chairperson. It is their role to facilitate a productive and enjoyable meeting for all participants.

    We rank meeting facilitation as being one of the most easily observed weaknesses of poor leaders. Conversely, a manager who is great at running meetings is giving themselves a wonderful opportunity to lead a productive and engaged team.

    David Pethick
    Co-Founder, http://leading.io

    1. Mike Lehr

      Thank you, David, for visiting and leaving your insights. You’re right. Facilitating meetings is very important to leadership. I don’t know if you read the whole series, but I also provide strategies and activities for positioning and following up the meeting. I see meetings as serving a very important function in promoting individual relationships. That has been the focus of this series: the relational and cultural impact of group interactions.

      Again, I appreciate you stopping by, David.

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