At the start of a recent conference call for an upcoming strategy planning project, it was clear I was expected to facilitate the discussion. That was my suspicion coming in, but with other responsibilities, there wasn’t a chance to prepare as much as I typically would. So after a brief introduction, all eyes and ears turned to me to start talking – gulp.

Here’s Your ChallengeWhat do you do when you’re not ready to speak or don’t know what to say?

Mark Twain said, “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.” How about a middle ground? Next time you’re in a similar situation, think for a moment, open your mouth, and ASK a great question.

Doing this provides three clear, immediate strategic benefits:

  • You shift the focus from your lack of preparation and give the floor back to the other participants.
  • The other people feel better because they’re able to provide input.
  • By actively listening, you can pick out cues from their comments that can shape your next move – to talk, to change course, or to ask another question.

The strategic key is asking the right type of question.

Be ready by developing a quick list of 8 to 10 questions that you can rely upon with ease. Here are a few to get you started (along with when to use them):

  • Can you elaborate? (If someone has provided information, but you’re not clear what it means.)
  • How have you approached this before? (If people have previous experience they could share.)
  • What are your initial thoughts for how to approach it? (When participants have pre-conceived notions about what to do.)
  • Can you tell me more? (When someone has a wealth of information that hasn't been shared yet.)
  • What’s most important for you to accomplish? (To understand the other parties’ motivations – and what matters in this situation.)

In this example, I chose the last question, allowing participants an opportunity to share their individual and collective objectives for the upcoming planning session. Their initial comments set up a follow-up question (What percent of the plan should be devoted to each of the 3 sections you’ve mentioned?), creating the opportunity to start capturing topic areas. A productive meeting was thus snatched from the jaws of unpreparedness with two great, simple questions.

So what questions will you be better prepared to ask next time this happens to you? – Mike Brown

The Brainzooming Group helps make smart organizations more successful by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement. Email or call 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.