It’s typical for participants in a session to be initially reserved and very willing to allow others to speak first. As a result, it is not unusual for the first question you ask to be met with complete and utter silence. This can be demoralizing for you, especially when it occurs at the beginning of a session—that time when you are hoping for high energy and great interaction. To avoid the resounding silence that can come with your first question, we recommend that you warm up the group by first asking at least two questions that require a nonverbal response. Since these two pre-questions should set up your primary question, you should plan these questions in advance.
Example of a Warm-up
Let’s look at an example. Suppose your primary question is, “What are the benefits of planning?” In the example below, note the questions the facilitator asks and the actions the facilitator takes before asking the primary question.
Facilitator: How many people here have been involved with a project that wasn’t well planned from the beginning? (Facilitator raises hand)
It was somewhat difficult, wasn’t it? (Nods head)
You may have had such problems as a lack of understanding of the purpose, people unclear about roles, lack of commitment to action, and so on. So there are some real benefits to planning, aren’t there? (Nods head)
Let’s name a few. What are the benefits of planning? Who can tell me one? (Raises hand and calls on someone whose hand also goes up)
The warm-up technique is effective in getting people responding to you, first nonverbally, then verbally. By twice getting the participants to nod their heads or raise their hands, you have greatly increased the likelihood that, when you ask that first question and raise your hand, one or more people will raise their hands to offer a response.
To learn more about facilitation skills, consider our course, The Effective Facilitator. The four-day course provides a structured approach for leading teams and facilitating meetings and covers over 100 techniques for getting amazing results from groups.
About the Author
Michael Wilkinson is the CEO and Managing Director of Leadership Strategies, the largest provider of professional facilitators and facilitation training in the country. Michael is a much sought after trainer, facilitator and speaker. He is a Certified Master Facilitator and a Certified Professional Facilitator. As a past president of the Southeast Association of Facilitators, the creator of the FindaFacilitator.com database and a board member of the International Institute of Facilitation, Michael is a national leader in the facilitation industry. You can get more tips from Michael’s books, including The Executive Guide to Facilitating Strategy, The Secrets of Facilitation, The Secrets to Masterful Meetings, and CLICK: The Virtual Meetings Book.