The great thing about ThoughtExchange is that you can empower participants to share a wide range of ideas in their own words and gain insight into perspectives you may not have considered. But to reap all the benefits, you need to sow a great question.
After running thousands of Exchanges, we’ve nailed down a few key guidelines to help you out.
Keep it simple
You want your question to be short, simple and understandable for as many participants as possible. Use simple language that people from all backgrounds can understand. It can be tempting to dive into explanations about what you hope to do with the ideas that are shared in your exchange or why you are running it in the first place but save that for your introduction so your question stays clean, crisp and concise.
Think about sharing and rating
When writing your question, think about both the Share and Star steps. You want to make it easy for participants to respond to your question, but you also want the rating process to feel like a piece of cake. A few simple words in your question can go a long way towards making the Star step easier for your participants. Include a rating scale by asking participants for the “most important” things to consider around a given topic or the “key insights” from a presentation or event.
Also, try to stick to a single topic in your question and encourage participants to share as many thoughts as they like rather than asking for a specific number of thoughts (ex. the top three things).
Get to the heart of the matter
Keep your question direct and ask specifically about what you need to know. Some topics can be challenging (for example: budgeting shortfalls, staff turnover, etc.), but being courageous in your question will lead to better outcomes and more successful engagements. We’ve learned from millions of participants that open and earnest questions outperform closed and guiding questions every time.
Here are some specific techniques to consider when writing your question:
Empower your participants to share ideas that matter to them by ensuring your questions are truly open-ended. If someone can respond to the question with a single word or idea, think about ways to engage them on a deeper level.
Encourage your participants to share multiple ideas in response to your question. This can be as simple as asking “What are your thoughts” instead of “What do you think about.” Or asking for “some important things” rather than “the most important thing.”
Help your participants breeze through the Star step by including qualifier words like “most important” or “most impactful” in your question. These words serve as a built-in rating scale to help you get robust data from your top thoughts.
Keep things general
Avoid asking for ideas that are too specific to one person’s experience to be easily rated by others. For example, when working on your professional development program you could ask “What are the most impactful steps you have undertaken in your professional development this year?” But Responses to that question might be hard for participants to rate—especially if the “impactful step” is a course that a participant didn't take. A more general question that gets at the same information could be “What are some important things we can do to improve professional development for our employees?”.