Ask Meaningful Questions

Let's say you're designing a process that will bring a group of 20 experts together to come to agreement on practice guidelines for their profession. So you're looking for an opening question that will give them an opportunity to strut their stuff and at the same time disclose something significant related to the session objectives. This question needs to have just the right amount of risk for participants so that it prepares people for what follows.

Ask "What is one thing you know for sure about creating practice guidelines for our profession?"

This question gives everyone an opportunity to vent whatever strong feelings or opinions they want to share while also contributing to the objectives of the session. There is no pat answer: they can respond from a content or process perspective and their ideas will all be accepted. This question also helps to build ownership for outcomes: participants are more likely to feel invested in a process that respects their opinions at the front end.

Check out Making Questions Work: Chapter 4, "Questions for Opening a Session".