Engaging Question

Here’s a reminder of a well-used and highly effective presentation tactic. This time it comes via dusty old notes from a 1998 Chicago conference I attended. The speaker was then assessing sales system projects, called Timothy McMahon at Labyrinth Research.

Outlining his optimal ‘7-step implementation plan’, he sought to define his “advantage model”. His eleventh (of 23) slide splashed this in big letters;

“I could create Competitive Advantage if I could do ___________ better!”

I’ve both seen and used this trick many times. It usually works well. Take a decent question, with more than one answer, in large font and invite responses.

You do though have to be on your guard for a few things when posing any such question. Here’s a quick quintet from my experience:

  1. Just because you throw it open doesn’t mean someone will answer. Have a back up plan so that if silence overwhelms you (which you’ll think is worse/longer than it really is), there’s something else to say or prompt.
  2. Beware the comedian. There’s always one. A sarcastic (right through to caustic) comment can derail you. Again, have a plan for anyone that isn’t taking your wisdom as seriously as you’d expect.
  3. Most times I see this deployed, the questioner rushes through this bit, probably through anxiety that the above will occur. Don’t be afraid to slow things down. Allow ideas to percolate. Let thoughts breath. Delving into responses deeper is fine too.
  4. Have examples of what other people said. It can kick-start engagement and be played off against responses.
  5. Finally, make sure you remember the point of why you’re asking the question. If you’re not trying to expose differences of opinion or a knowledge/action gap, then why ask at all?

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