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Chris Corrigan
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Simple instructions for building a question

I am preparing some questions tonight for an exercise I am running, and I rediscovered this elegant and simple process for constructing questions that elicit stories, courtesy of the Ultimate Guide to Anecdote Circles.

Build the question.

People remember events when they can picture an image reminding them of a specific situation. Combine this idea with the suggestion of adding emotion and you have the two building blocks to create good questions.

First start with an image-building phrase:

  • “Think about…”
  • “Imagine…”
  • “If…”
  • “Consider…”

For example, ”Think about a time when you were given advice by your manager.”

Add an additional sentence or two to enhance the image:

“This might have been done formally in the office or perhaps outside the formal environment.”

Then add the open question with the emotive words:

“When have you been annoyed, ecstatic or perhaps just surprised by what you were told?”

Notice there is a spectrum of emotions, which increases the chances of a memory being triggered by the question.

Simply asking people to tell stories rarely results in stories being told. In fact people are often confused when you ask for stories, thinking they might have to concoct an event or perhaps demonstrate Hemingway-level storytelling. Consequently, we suggest you avoid the term ‘story’ and use terms like: examples, illustrations, experiences.

So simple and results in great questions.

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