Don't Dictate, Facilitate - Questioning Techniques

Photo courtesy of Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0

Photo courtesy of Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0

One challenge for public speakers is making the transition from giving speeches to delivering seminars.

While traditionally, speaking has been more or less a monologue, delivering a seminar requires a different set of skills. One of those skills is facilitation. The public speaker needs to engage and elicit information from the audience and help them make connections to their work environments through discussion.

Here are three questioning techniques for facilitating powerful discussions:

1. Overhead question. The facilitator throws out a question to the audience for anybody to answer. For example, “What is a best practice for building trust?” An open-ended question is a good way to begin a discussion.  It gives group members an equal opportunity to respond without the facilitator controlling the outcome.

The first challenge with overhead questions is that they must be general enough that the group can respond. Questions that are too specific may weed out people who are not experts. An opinion question is a good choice for an overhead question.

The second challenge is being able to pause. Facilitators need to feel comfortable with silence and wait for an audience response. Too often, the facilitator jumps in and gives the answer which shuts down the conversation.

2. Directive question. This is where the facilitator directs a question to a specific person. Use directive questions when you know a person has knowledge that would benefit the group. Also, use this technique to draw out a shy member or to manage someone who is side-talking.

One cautionary note: Don’t put anybody on the spot and make them look foolish.  To maintain attention, always pose the question, and then call their name. “What is the best way to handle an irate employee, Bob?” If you call the person’s name first and then ask the question, people will tune out because they know you’re not calling on them.

3. Redirective question. This most powerful facilitation technique requires a mental shift for most speakers. Here’s how it works: A person asks the facilitator a question. “How would you sell an intangible?” Instead of answering the question, the facilitator throws the question back to:

a. the person asking the question or
b. the entire audience.

By redirecting the question back to the audience, and probing deeper with follow up questions, the facilitator keeps the discussion alive and elicits more participation. A direct answer will shut the discussion down. Think of facilitation as volley ball where the goal is to keep the question moving from facilitator to learner or from peer to peer. In other words, when facilitating, the public speaker acts more like a conductor, not the musician.

Use these three facilitation techniques, you’ll have richer discussions, more energy, and an engaged audience.