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Better Meetings Through Better Questions

Posted on April 02, 2007

By Joan Eisenstodt

Q-storming™ is a facilitation technique I find to be most useful especially when dealing with people in decision-making capacity.  Q-storming™ is the opposite of brainstorming.  Most people are familiar with brainstorming and the ‘rules’ –  no idea is a bad idea,   all ideas should be offered equally, the quantity of generated ideas will prove best, and so on.  (For more, a good place to learn more about it, if you have participated in brainstorming sessions and not really known what they are about is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brainstorming)

Q-storming™ - or “question thinking” –a term coined by Marilee Adams, Ph.D., author of, among other publications, “Change Your Questions, Change Your Life” - on the other hand is about questions – lots and lots of questions.  I also wrote a bit about the technique back in June (http://vnutravel.typepad.com/migurus/2006/06/how_will_you_no.html) as part of another guru section about how we can look differently at meetings.  Today, I want to discuss more about the why of Q-storming™ v. brainstorming as a technique you will be able to use.

When we brainstorm, many ideas are generated and even in the best brainstorming session, eyes are often rolled, someone else says “We can’t do that; we tried it before” and others simply refuse to participate.  It’s not a bad technique – and perhaps combined with Q-storming™ makes for an even stronger process.

Say, for example, your organization is trying to determine who your keynote speaker should be.  Names will be brainstormed – that is, thrown out as possibilities.  Some of those names will be eliminated just because someone doesn’t like them or they perceive they are too expensive.  Better would be to Q-storm™ each name – to ask questions such as “About what do they speak? How can their general or specific message help us meet our meeting goals and objectives? What else do they offer to the meeting other than a presence? Who has any contacts to them – either through a speakers bureau or individually? Will they arrive early to schmooze and get to know our participants, or stay on to sign books? How else can we use them other than a key or cap note program?  If we changed our format – say to an “Inside the Actor’s Studio”-type program – would they be more effective for our audience? What do we know about this speaker and her or his delivery and style?  Are stories that this speaker might tell appropriate for our audience? How will the audience relate to what is said? ”

The entire group can Q-storm™ each speaker or the list of possible speakers can be divided up and smaller groups can Q-storm™ individuals.  By so doing, better questions will be asked before conclusions are drawn.

To conduct Q-storming™ effectively, give each person a stack of small paper (that can be recycled after the fact) and some bold, broad color pens or markers.  Each small paper (about 3”x3”) should have one question marked.  These can be tacked to wall when the time is up and then grouped into like questions – on which to build more questions.  Once as many questions as possible have been asked and posted and additional questions asked on top of those questions, the answers can be sought.

Why bother?  Using key- or cap- note speakers as an example for a Q-storming™ exercise, one begins to learn, before there is a mismatch and the speaker is on the platform offending one’s audience, how to go for more than a name speaker and rather, to ask questions leading to the appropriate match for the meeting, its goals and objectives and the audience.


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