The Three Most Useless Meeting Questions – Part One


The three most useless questions when facilitating or leading a meeting are as follows:

  • Does anyone have any questions?
  • Does everyone understand this?
  • What is most important to you?

My rationale? Let’s start with the first question listed: “Does anyone have any questions?” This is a closed question; closed questions are not the best way to get answers. Compare that structure to asking, “What questions DO you have?”. This question is posed using a presupposition question structure. Presuppositions have a built-in command or an implicit assumption. Here, the assumption is that you have questions—now find them—and produce a higher response rate. The closed question simply directs a person to think about whether they have a question and is often hearable as you are not really interested in getting responses!

Ah, yes, the word, hearable. How is your audience “hearing” your question?

I have sat through several peer review meetings where the presenters occupied about 90% of the time. As the end of the meeting was nearing, they asked the audience: “Do you have any questions or comments?” You’ve probably seen this scenario before. This question gets very few responses because it’s not heard as a request for input but instead as a sign that the leader is closing down the meeting. In conversation analysis-eez (see my blog “Did You Have A Nice Weekend?” for more on conversation analysis), this utterance is performing a closing function.

If you find that you’re not getting the feedback you seek, give these ideas a try:

  • Try using presupposition structures and ask, “What ARE your questions about proceeding with this idea?” or “What areas should we be most concerned about?”
  • Call people out by name (particularly if you’re meeting virtually) “Johnson, you have a lot of experience in this area. What are your key concerns about changing this process?” (See more tips for creating better engagement in the virtual world here.)
  • If you are seeking input (such as in product design reviews or proposals or look-backs,) design the meetings for 30–40% presentation time and the rest as discussion/questioning/challenging time.

These small tips will make large differences in the input you seek as a facilitator or leader. And, if you are simply wanting to close the meeting, a simple “Thanks so much for attending today.” works wonders.

What's your question?