Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Power of a Well Placed Question Mark

Yesterday afternoon, my team hosted a webinar as part of an ongoing training program. We were fortunate that our Subject Matter Expert also had excellent facilitation skills, so we really didn't have too much to do. But that is not always the case.

Has this ever happened to you: You are invited to attend a webinar about a topic that is relevant and important to your work. You add it to your calendar. At the appropriate date and time you log on, eager to discuss the topic and have a few important questions answered. The webinar begins. About 15 minutes into it you realize this is going to be a "one way street." That the Subject Matter Expert (SME) will be doing all the talking, while you listen. Gradually you feel the energy drain through the phone line. You begin to hear the muted clicks of someone typing at their keyboard. You start to think about other things you have to do too. Before you know it, you and half of the other participants have tuned out and are politely hanging on waiting for the session to end.

This is often happens when there is no learning person available to host the webinar and facilitate the discussion, or when you don't have someone like the guy we were lucky enough to have leading our session yesterday. Many of us have had to rely on Subject Matter Experts to lead their own sessions at some point in time. In those cases, we prepare and coach them as best we can, and hope for the best.

One technique I have found helpful in these situations is to go through the presentation slides with the SME before hand and place a question mark on the lower right corner of the last slide for each topic. In a typical 60-minute webinar, there may be three or four key topics being covered, so there would be three or four slides containing the question mark. This serves as a visual reminder to the SME and the participants that they have reached the end of the topic and this is a good time for questions before moving onto the next topic. I tell the SME to let the group know at the beginning of the session that when they see the slide with the question mark, that is their opportunity to ask questions. Then, when they finish covering the points on a slide with the question mark, they simply need to ask something like, "What questions do you have about {topic x} before we move onto the next topic?"

This is helpful in both creating and managing the level of dialog in the session. Participants recognize the opportunity to ask questions when they see the question mark and they also recognize that the question and answer period for that topic is over when the SME moves to the next slide.

So before I move onto the next topic in this blog, what questions do you have?

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