How do you use Questions?

When you ask a question you want the answer, don’t you*? Of course, otherwise you wouldn’t have bothered to ask the question in the first place. But it’s not always as simple as that…..

It is true that when we ask questions we are usually looking to obtain information about something,  “what time does the workshop start?” might be a good example. We don’t know something so we ask to find out, simple. But there are many other reasons we ask questions and they serve a variety of purposes besides just providing information.


We may be hiding an instruction in a question “do you want to put the kettle on?” actually means – I’d like you to put the kettle on! We might ask a question to make out feelings known about something “Is it my turn to do the photocopying again?”. Or perhaps to help us feel a certain way. The “does this look okay?” type question may actually be a request for validation rather than information, but you do want a reply. And of course there are rhetorical questions you might ask where you don’t really expect information, or even a reply. They are often used to make a point, or even to answer another question. “What does he think he looks like?” or “Who cares?” might be some good examples.

We use a plethora of different questions types to frame our conversations and give them extra meaning. Most of the time we do this without thinking about it and it’s part of our social use of language; the way we use language to communicate. In this sense our questions are more about the process of asking a question, than the actual question itself.

Questions can often lead to discussions, whether intended or not. Sometimes when we need the information we need to have a discussion to get to it – after all not all questions are simple and you may need more than one. A back and forth exchange of question and answers could be the mechanism for getting what you need. Sometimes it is purely about the conversation itself and questions are a good way to get a conversation going. We often do this when we are trying to engage with someone and get their attention. Of course, we need to make sure that we do listen to the answers otherwise the discussion will be rather short lived!

workshop conversations and questions

In the workshops I do, questions are often designed to start conversations, to keep discussions going and to generate more information. I use them to:

  • Engage people and break the ice
  • Maintain engagement and keep conversations flowing
  • Guide conversations and help them move in a particular direction
  • Help the group to solve problems
  • Elicit new ideas and to stimulate thought
  • Brainstorm
  • Tease out information that people often don’t realise they have
  • Debate a situation or particular topic
  • Help manage group dynamics

And a whole lot more. They are an important facilitation technique. Sometimes I plan these ahead and may use a particular method, such as the ICA’s Focused Conversation approach. Sometimes I plan one or two questions and bring in others as the workshop progresses. Much of the time it is about drawing on a bank of tried and tested question types as and when they are necessary. And sometimes, I rely on my flexibility and experience as a facilitator and bring them in when I need them with out the pre-planning.

I love a good question. It’s not always because I need information. But it is usually because I want a reply and I most definitely love a good conversation. So, my opening question for you is:

How do YOU use questions?

For more information about how you can use questions in workshops and a whole lot more check out my latest Workshop Essentials workshop now.

*Incidentally, for the grammar geeks amongst you, this particular question is known as a “tag” question.








The Wonders of Workshops

workshop group

To do a workshop, there’s a trick

Discovering how people tick.

You’ll want to be part of the group,

You need to feel you’re in the loop.

If you just stand there, blab and spout

And talk and talk around, about,

One direction information

With minimal participation.

Then you’re not making half the most

Of what you should be, as the host.

Your job’s to energise, excite

Get people buzzing left and right!

Involve the group that’s there with you

Create dynamics, include them too.

Engagement is the key you see,

It’s not just them, it’s us and we.

Discussions causing inspiration

Ideas abound and thought creation.

And questions about how to do,

And sharing a new point of view.

A good direction, know you aims

Include some decent fun and games.

Tools, techniques, activities,

A proper process if you please.

It’s not so hard you’ll get the knack

And once you’re on that workshop track,

You start to get the buzz, you’ll see

Just how much fun it really can be.

So let’s get started, find your groove,

Take a first step, bust a move.

You can devise a workshop too,

Don’t just sit there, get up and do!


To find out more about my workshops on how to do your own workshop, click here!

Looking back to move forwards into 2016

It’s here again, that end of the year feeling. Whether a sinking or floating feeling it’s that time when many people are either looking back and reflecting, or eyeing the horizon and looking to what next. We are often encouraged to create a vision, a goal, plan and perhaps a strategy to move along and achieve new things for the coming year. This year will be the year of …………….? 2016 will be amazing, awesome and incredible! I resolve to do many fantastic things. Of course we need goals, and we need to embrace the newness that is embodied in a brand new year. We like to have a marker of some kind to denote that the old has finished and hail the new and exciting opportunities that are ahead.

Moving forwards

But we shouldn’t leave out the reflecting. If we don’t look back and learn, we won’t know which parts of 2015 are to be ditched, not repeated and left to one side. We won’t know what worked so well that we need to carry this on into 2016, to repeat, to grow and to strengthen.

The start of a new year shouldn’t be when we draw a line under last year, say goodbye and forget it, even if on the face of it it was the most hideous year ever. It should be the time when we cast an eye over what happened last year. To separate out the good things and work out how we can hang on to them or adapt and build on them, to help us with what we want to achieve next.

This is the kind of approach I take with many of the review workshops I do. When you complete a project or piece of work, it doesn’t make sense just to close it, file it away and forget about it. It makes much more sense to see if you can learn from it and put that knowledge and experience into the next piece of work.

So rather like these workshops, I like to think about:

What worked well?

For me starting up my own series of workshops has worked very well, and is something to be repeated and grown. I have all kinds of (hopefully) brilliant ideas for new workshops and thoughts on how to improve and expand the ones I’ve done. But I also know I need to do this one at a time, walking not running.

workshop collage

What didn’t work so well?

I would say that spreading myself too thin and trying to do too many different things has definitely not worked so well. I know I am not alone and that other “ideas people” also have difficultly taming their impulse to get going on far too many things at once. This year it will be out with the multitasking and in with the prioritising and focus!


What have I learnt?

I have learnt to not assume what is known and understood by other people. When you are passionate and involved in something you do it is often hard to differentiate between the intrinsic, common sense, and universally understood, and the unusual, specialist and fascinating. We all have our different skill sets, experience and knowledge, and recognising that is important.

And lastly a funny memory…..

I do often talk about the importance of finding a good workshop venue. So thinking about the last workshop of 2015 that I did in a client’s office kitchen (strangely the best place in their office to work with a group) most definitely brings a smile to my face. Finding a good venue is important, but being adaptable even more so!

What are your moments of 2015, good and bad? And what have you learnt?

I wish you a wonderful 2016, full of ambition, promise and fulfilment and full of new experiences to take forward into the future…..

And if getting your workshops spot on is on your 2016 “to do” list then I invite you to take a look at my next workshop……..

Workshop Essentials for blog




Why should you hold a workshop?

As we have already established, I love a good workshop. I love giving workshops, and if they are done well, I love being a participant. I love sharing ideas, having discussions, learning while doing.


Lots of people do workshops. It is a term that has become a bit of a catch all for those situations where you get a group of people together in the same space and work with them. I know people who do workshops on Social Media, Finance, Sales and Marketing, Business Development, Nutrition and Mindfulness to name but a few. Most of the people who do them are not trainers or facilitators in their own right. They are not necessarily people who work predominantly with groups for a living. They are people who are experts in their field, have a wealth of knowledge to share and have decided to do a workshop as part of their business offering. The topics are vast and the things you can learn amazing.

But it’s not easy doing a workshop. And it’s even harder to do a good workshop. It’s fairly nerve-wracking the first time, standing up in front of a group of people and telling them what you know, watching a lot of faces full of expectation looking to you for the answers. But once you get over that hurdle, it feels fairly do-able. After all, you are the expert.

The hard bit is doing it in a way that maintains a good audience of attentively listening, actively involved, motivated participants. Being creative enough with your worldly knowledge so it is accurately and effectively imparted to a group of paying guests is not something to embark upon lightly. You’ve broken through the “everyone’s listening to me” thing, now you have to keep all those eager faces from drifting away, not sticking to the programme, losing interest. That’s the killer, much worse that everyone looking at you!

So, nothing to worry about at all then. Perhaps I’m not selling it well enough, the idea of holding a workshop. The how, is most definitely something you need to work on. But the why, well that’s much easier…….Continue reading

Embracing those Workshop Fears and Remembering the Metaphorical Hug.

In my line of work I do find myself talking a lot about workshops. After all, it is what I do. Get me going and I can be talking about them for hours…..

I have however come to realise that not everyone shares my passion. That’s okay. The idea of standing up in front of a group of people (whether large or small) can be quite daunting. This is particularly true if you haven’t actually done it before and it is probably the IDEA of doing it that frightens you most. That’s often the way, it is the thought, the notion, the imagined experience of doing something that often frightens us most. In reality, these things often turn out to be not quite so bad.

I do remember my first ever workshop, although fortunately I wasn’t alone. I did it with a colleague of mine and we were delivering a training session on communication development and disorders. It was a topic I knew inside and out and we had planned the content meticulously. We had all sorts of interesting activities in mind, and had consulted and brainstormed so we felt we had it pretty well organised. We knew what we wanted people to learn, and the level of knowledge of our participants. We spent hours planning to get it right. And I was still scared.

Continue reading