Asking questions, getting answers

May 24 2012 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

As a manager or leader today you will be called on to run meetings, and many (if not most) will be done remotely by phone, webmeeting or probably hologram, soon enough. It's just one of the new dynamics of today's workplace. It can also be quite a challenge. And to meet it, there's a new resource I'd like to introduce to you.

I was thrilled to be included in the 2012 ASTD Management Development Handbook. My buddy Lisa Haneberg (of the Management Craft blog) and 37 other authors contributed one chapter on a topic of their choice. I chose to write about running good virtual meetings and thought I'd share some of it with you as a sneak peek.

Specifically, one of the most common complaints is a lack of quality input from participants. How can you ensure that people participate and contribute their wisdom to the team when it's most needed? It helps to have a questioning strategy.

When do you want input? There are probably logical breaks in the flow of the conversation where it makes sense to check understanding or ask for audience input. If you have a three-step process, and you wait until step three to make sure people are following you, you're likely to lose a few folks along the way.

So determine the logical places to have discussion or ask questions and build it into your notes or your timeline. If you don't write it down, you'll forget to do it. Trust me.

How do you want the input? Do you want people to ask by voice? Do you want them to write their comments in chat? Maybe you want them to write their ideas on the white board themselves. Set ground-rules for how you'll get their input.

Control the flow of information and ideas. If you're a meeting leader, you know you have to control the flow of information. You can't have everyone talking at once. Additionally, there is a tendency for the same people to get heard and others ignored. Web meetings actually allow you to control this if you take charge. Using multiple media is a good idea.

For example, many people with English as a second language feel that their written English is better than their spoken English and feel more confident contributing that way. Your group's introverts may not be comfortable interrupting to make a point. Often people will make a comment in chat and you can then give them the floor and allow them to elaborate verbally.

Allowing more than one way to get input from people increases the odds they'll contribute in a way that's comfortable for them.

Assume there are questions and go after them. Asking "what questions do you have?" or "what do you need more information on?" presumes there will be questions and makes some people feel better about asking for what they need. Additionally, it projects a positive attitude. Many meeting leaders ask for questions like they're about to get shot for it. Q and A is a good thing.

There are three types of questions. Just as with a regular conference-room meeting there are three ways of asking for input from the audience:

1. "Can anyone tell me…" questions. These are general questions and you're looking for someone to give you an answer. In a room, people would raise their hand and you could pick a speaker. Online it's a little trickier but you can use the "raise hand" feature, or just ask people to say their name, rather than blurt out the answer.

Try not to go to the same person every time (and you know who they are - they answer every darned question and monopolize the conversation). Give priority to people you haven't heard from yet.

2. Directed questions are aimed at a specific person. You might do this because you know they have the answer, or maybe you want to show how smart that person is. Either way you want to ask that question by starting with their name ("Ramona, what do you think?") for a very good reason. You want to wake them up, refocus them and give them a chance to unmute their phone before they have to answer.

3. "Anyone else?" questions are a last-resort way of telling someone they're over-contributing and you want to hear from someone new.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

Wayne Turmel has been writing about how to communicate effectively in remote and virtual environments for more than 20 years. In 2016, he merged with The Kevin Eikenberry Group, to create The Remote Leadership Institute, and now serves as Master Trainer and Coach to the Kevin Eikenberry Group. Wayne is also is the author of more than 15 books, including The Long-Distance Teammate and The Long-Distance Team.