(First published, July 2003)
This is both a provocative Jolt and a Structured Sharing activity. Even though Three Questions takes just a few minutes, it provokes the participants into reflecting for a long time.
You ask two related questions and ask members of two sides of the audience to shout out the answer. You comment briefly on each answer and conclude the session by asking the audience to integrate the two answers.
The key requirement for this format is to come up with two related questions for audience members to answer. These questions may result in consistent or contradictory answers. You also need to come up with a follow-up question that requires participants to integrate the two consistent answers or to reconcile the two contradictory answers.
Here are some sample topics and questions:
Diversity. First question: What is the most frequently spoken first language in the world? (Mandarin). Second question: What is the most frequently learned second language in the world? (English). Third question: How can we better appreciate the cultural heritage of nonnative speakers of English?
Email. First question: What the most important advantage of using email? (Instant communication). Second question: What is the most important disadvantage of using email? (spam). Third question: How can we increase the advantages and reduce the disadvantages of using email?
Sales. First question: What is one thing that salespeople are eager to do? (close the order) Second question: What is one thing that customers want salespeople to do? (answer their questions). Third question: How can salespeople become more customer-focused?
Lectures. First question: What makes some stories so interesting to listen to? (drama). Second question: What makes some stories so boring to listen to? (passivity). Third question: How can we incorporate interactivity in storytelling?
Here's a transcript of a recent presentation that used Three Questions. Review it to figure out the steps in the flow of this activity:
Here's a question for the left half of the audience: What is the most frequently used intervention for improving human performance?
Here's a different question for members of the right half: What is the most important intervention?
Take your time to silently think about the answer. (Pause for 5 seconds.)
Time's up. At the count of three, I want all of you in the left group to shout out your answer. One, two, three.
(Audience members shout out the answer. “Training” is likely to be one of the answers.)
Yes, you are right. Training is the most popular intervention. Everybody wants training. It is the most popular placebo for all performance problems.
Now for the right group. One, two, three.
(Audience members shout out the answer. “Training” is not likely to be one of the answers.)
Yes, you are right. Training is the most important intervention. It works for a lack of skills and knowledge. When you use other interventions, performers still lack the skills and knowledge for effectively using that intervention. So you need to blend training with all other interventions.
Here's the next question for both groups: How can we effectively use training as a stand-alone intervention—and as blended support for other interventions? Think about the answer for the rest of your lifetime.
Problem: Nobody shouts out the answer. Solution: Pretend you can read people's minds and proceed with your presentation.
Problem: Dividing the audience group into right and left halves is confusing because people don't know if I am talking about my left or their left. Solution: Use other convenient bifurcations such as men and women or people with glasses and people without glasses.