Asking good questions as a facilitator

As we examine the role of a facilitator and impart our advise and guidance we have so far…

Covered some top tips for you to consider

Looked at YOU and ensuring you are confident in your own style.

Talked in depth about making sure the audience/group are the main event, not you.

And this week we look at the importance of asking good questions. This links well with last week’s article. If you’re asking good questions, then the group will be engaged, committed and happy to answer anything that you might throw at them….well, not anything!


You can and should prepare questions before the event, but often things will change in the moment so you have to be flexible and ready with the right approach rather than a set pre-prepared script.

Actually, it really is a mindset. Are you asking open questions that elicit a response?

  • What are the sorts of question that will prompt discussion?
  • Will your question push the momentum along?

So what do we mean by ‘good questions’ and why are they important?

The session will have a purpose or as we like to call it a ‘super objective’.

This phrase comes from our old world of the theatre where the great Russian acting teacher Konstantin Stanislavsky encouraged his actors to know the super objective of each character which then was split into smaller objectives. It’s from where we get the old joke, ‘what’s my motivation?’ But the thinking is sound and still works here as a facilitator.

Everything that we are doing in the session should ultimately be in support of this goal. If it’s to gain more clarity then shape your questions around that. If it’s to ensure leaders know what is expected during transformation then frame your questions to support that goal.

Not only will it focus the session but you’ll also be ready in a couple of weeks to play Konstantin in Chekov’s the Seagull. 😊

Purple Monster has a background in the theatre. This often means that we are naturally curious. You need this when looking for those good questions.

Curiosity is perhaps a more useful skill for the facilitator than creativity because by simply opening up your mind to the possibility of a new, different or tangential approach will provoke different thoughts in your delegates. And those thoughts can come from anywhere, if you’re looking out for them. Wildly creative and esoteric ideas might not be the best way in for everyone.

Remember it’s your job to ensure all questions and conversations are supporting the end goal. Simply asking delegates how they feel about the topic/change might only touch the surface. If you are not asking good quality questions when you have committed to a facilitated session, then you might have simply sent a questionnaire.

Your questions need to provoke a different train of thought.

  • Get the audience to explore their own preconceived thoughts and feelings. Get them to discuss it privately in small groups and ask them to précis what they heard in their small groups. Reportage of your groups’ thinking is much less personally exposing than being asked to articulate your own thoughts in front of any group.


  • Stretch them to consider things in different ways. Ask one group to start discussing a subject and note down their thoughts around it. Then ask the next group to visit the first groups’ output and question and add to their initial work.


  • Push them all to contribute. Some people may be quiet but that doesn’t mean they don’t have an opinion. Ensure you are always asking individuals their thoughts. It’s tempting to listen to the first, perhaps most forthright opinion, but quieter people may need your help in being able to share their thoughts too.

We can’t list here ‘great’ questions. You have to work that one out for yourself, but ensuring that you are in service of the super-objective and including everyone in the room while at the same time retaining your own sense of humour and authenticity will take you a long way when facilitating any session.

The last word perhaps should be left with the great Russian playwright Anton Chekov who perhaps had the best answer to the ultimate question, ‘What is life?’.

“You ask what is life? That is the same as asking what is a carrot? A carrot is a carrot and we know nothing more”.

Good luck!