Any Questions? Jabber Jabber


It happens repeatedly: People assure customers that they can ask questions at any time, but their actions suggest otherwise. For example:

It happens repeatedly: People assure customers that they can ask questions at any time, but their actions suggest otherwise. For example:

  • A senior manager gave a presentation to customers to explain the complex system her organization was developing for them. She told customers they could interrupt her at any time to ask questions. She later told me she couldn't understand why no one asked any questions.
  • A technical training instructor periodically stopped abruptly during his class and asked participants if they had any questions. After waiting a full quarter-second, he resumed his instruction.
  • A doctor told me he was going to explain his recommendations and I could feel free to ask any questions at all. Then he talked non-stop. Jabber jabber. That's what it sounded like. I did manage to ask all my questions, but each one felt like an intrusion in his well-prepared script.

Inviting questions and then spewing forth without respite sends the signal that you don't really want questions. Assuming that the manager, instructor and doctor were genuinely open to questions, what might they have done differently?

  • The senior manager might simply have stopped periodically and invited questions. Or, recognizing that some people might have felt awkward asking about technical matters they felt unsure about, she might have suggested that they write down their questions, and she'd collect and respond to them at the end of her presentation.
  • To give students an opportunity to ask questions, the instructor might have scheduled periodic Q&A segments. Or he might have provided some quiet time for students to determine what questions they had. Or he might have divided the class into small groups and asked each group to identify 2 or 3 things that still puzzled them.
  • The doctor might have paused from time to time and asked what questions I'd like to ask. If I didn't have any, he could have proceeded. And if I did have some—well, then I could have asked them without feeling like I was competing for air time.

Any questionsjabberjabberblahblahblahyakketyyakguessnotI'lljustcontinue.

User Comments

Anonymous's picture

I have heard somebody say that when you ask a question, you are asking it for the ten other people in the room with the same question. Many times, when one person asks the first question, others screw up the courage to ask what they wondered about. I have seen instructors use techniques to get the ball rolling, like asking the students a question to check comprehension or paying for questions with a tootsie roll or other small candy. Does bribery go to far in soliciting questions?

December 2, 2009 - 10:56pm
Anonymous's picture

Thanks for the practical solutions you offered. For technical presentations even long pauses sometimes don't work, so I particularly like your added tools of collecting written questions or breaking into small groups to identify questions.

December 2, 2009 - 10:57pm
Anonymous's picture

Marty, bribery. Hmmm. I never thought of it that way, but I do know instructors who give out trinkets (food or otherwise) to "reward" those who have asked questions -- or at least the first person or first few people who ask. It's not something I do myself. It strikes me as "cute" the first few times you give out Tootsie Rolls, but could be perceived as silly or demeaning thereafter. I like to give people as many ways to ask questions as possible so that those who are uncomfortable asking in front of the full group can still get their questions answered. For example, I always make myself available during breaks and after the class for anyone who has questions they want to discuss privately. But you are right that often, what it takes is the first person asking to break the ice (gets past the "I don't want to sound stupid" syndrome) and then others feel more relaxed about asking.

November 13, 2009 - 1:56am
Anonymous's picture

Carol, thanks for your comment. You're right, sometimes even a long pause won't get them asking, particularly when many in the class are introverts. (As an introvert myself, I know this to be true ). That's one reason I often have groups do activities in teams and small groups. That way, people who are reluctant to speak up in front of the full group still have a chance to have their say. One group activity, as you pointed out, is having the class divide into small groups to come up with at least one question per group that hasn't come up yet. That way, the question represents the group and doesn't single out the individual who may feel reluctant to ask. I wouldn't do this team question-surfacing activity repeatedly, but I sometimes find it a great activity either for a group that's been particularly quiet or as a final activity to identify any remaining questions.

November 13, 2009 - 2:03am

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