“Does that make sense?”
The other day, I was talking with a colleague who had observed a training class being led at her workplace. She noticed that the two facilitators asked that very question many, many times throughout the course of the session.
On the surface, maybe we’d think that’s a good thing – they were pausing to check in on the learners and make sure they understood the content. But then, my colleague explained to me HOW they were asking the question.
They would pause and ask, “Does that make sense?” every couple of minutes as they presented their content. But they didn’t actually pause. They did not wait to see if someone would challenge them by saying, “No, this DOESN’T make sense!” It was nothing more than a habit – a presenter’s crutch or filler word.
It’s as common as Ummmm…
Facilitators, when you ask questions like this, are you taking a moment to pause? Are you providing ample time for your participants to reflect on the content you’ve shared, and assess whether or not they feel the content does, in fact, make sense? (Hint: It’s okay to have a moment of silence during your session – you can pause and let learners noodle on a question! You don’t have to fill every second of your session with talking!)
When facilitated appropriately, question-asking can be a terrific vehicle for learning. But how are you driving that vehicle?
Here are 3 tips for soliciting questions from your participants during a session:
1) Balance open- and closed-ended questions.
Starting your conversation with a solid, open-ended question is a good method for getting participants to think of a specific question, situation or experience. Follow up your open-ended question with a closed-ended question to clarify what is being asked, but avoid relying on closed-ended questions, as they limit the information you can gather. Repeat the process (like opening and closing an accordion!) until you have captured the information you need to answer the question.
2) Leverage probing questions.
Probing questions can help you dig for more information, or uncover where the root of the learner’s confusion. As the facilitator, this helps ensure that you have the whole story, so you can tailor your answer and meet the learner where s/he is. For simply-stated questions, a good probing question or two should be enough to gather the information you need to provide a relevant answer.
3) Start with a general question, then get more specific.
Similar to a funnel, this question-asking method starts out by gathering general, basic information, and gets more specific as both the facilitator and the question-asker draw out information and solutions. This is unlike the first method listed above – instead of balancing open- and closed-ended questions, the facilitator should start with a general, closed-ended question, and then ask more specific questions as needed.
Questions are a powerful way to level-set your audience, assess understanding (and avoid MISunderstanding!), and to build trust with learners.
Provide learners with ample opportunities to process the content you are presenting and ask questions as they arise. Provide them with opportunities to challenge and push back. To reconcile new content with content they already knew. To facilitate learning experiences.
Does that make sense?
Your turn: What are the tried-and-true question-asking methods that you have used while facilitating a training session? Share your thoughts, strategies and solutions in the comments below, so we can all learn from one another!
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4 thoughts on “Does that make sense? 3 Tips for Asking Questions During a Session”
I have noticed that facilitators will ask a question about new content – content that people came to learn. For example: “Do you know how many brain cells a baby is born with?” I call it the 6thGradeTeacher question. Only the facilitator knows the answer. Participants are unlikely to step into the space of being wrong. If they do try it, the facilitator responds with something like, “no, it’s actually xxx.” I am not convinced that the participant will be willing to venture a guess, a comment, or a response in the future. How about something like, “Tell me what you have heard about xxx.” This kind of questions informs both the participant and the facilitator.
Thanks for sharing, Pence! This is a very good tip…as facilitators, it’s so important to create a safe environment for learners. Even though it might seem like a small detail, the way in which we ask questions can make or break someone’s experience in the session – so it’s best to be mindful!
Very useful, Michelle! I’ll never forget the image of asking questions ‘like opening and closing an accordion’, thank you.
Hi Christ’l! Glad you liked that – someone explained it to me that way years ago, and it always stuck with me!