Reluctance to present in meetings and to ask questions “in public” are common organizational problems faced by knowledge managers. Last week, I addressed reluctance to attend meetings and the problem of only hearing from a few voices; in this post I’ll offer methods to encourage people to deliver presentations and for overcoming the common reluctance to ask questions.
Getting people to present
It’s often hard to get volunteers to present or lead a discussion, for many of the same reasons people don’t attend or speak up on community calls. Here are five ways you can appeal to potential presenters:
- You may have submitted proposals to speak at conferences, but have not been accepted; here’s your chance to present, receive helpful feedback, tune your message, and hone your presentation skills.
- You appreciate what others have presented, and would like to reciprocate by taking your turn.
- You want to help keep the community active, varied, and lively.
- You have presented before, and have something new to share.
- If you are reluctant to volunteer because you don’t think you have anything special to share, know that you aren’t alone. Once you get past that concern and actually present, you will find that the other members will appreciate your efforts, and you will be more comfortable presenting in this and other settings.
Reluctance to Ask
When someone needs to find the answer to a question, what do they tend to do?
- Try searching their hard drive, an FAQ database, or the Internet
- Turn to the person sitting next to them
- Call or instant message a trusted colleague
- Send an email to a few people or a distribution list
If the first four options don’t work, they give up.
The option that would likely work the best, but is not used nearly enough, is:
Ask in the most relevant community of practice discussion board or enterprise social network (ESN) group.
It’s a paradox that the one option with the greatest chance of success is the least likely to be tried. Why is this? One common reason is that people are afraid of asking a question in public because it may expose their ignorance, make them appear incompetent, or subject them to embarrassment.
When I receive a question via email, instant message, private ESN message, phone, or text message, I reply that I will be glad to answer the question if it is posted to a specific community, and I provide a link to that community’s discussion board or ESN group. I give three reasons for making this request:
- It will allow additional answers to be posted, which may be better than mine, or provide additional information beyond what I can offer.
- It will allow others to benefit from the exchange.
- It will provide a public record of the exchange, which can later be searched for, linked to, and reused.
However, people will often resist this request, and either fail to post their question, or respond with the following reasons why they don’t want to post in public:
- These questions are more back-end questions, not front-end questions
- I just need a quick answer
- I figured you would have the answer
- I don’t want to bother with all that
- I didn’t know where to post
These are really just different ways of saying:
- I’m embarrassed
- I don’t want to appear ignorant
- I should know the answer
- No one else needs to know that I had to ask
- I don’t want to bother figuring out where to post
Some people simply will not ask in public. You can help these people by posting on their behalf, answering their question, and sending them a private message linking to the posted question and answer. You can do this without mentioning them by name, but if you copy them on the reply and don’t explicitly state that they asked the question, they may be willing to ask directly the next time.
Here are some additional ways to encourage people to ask questions in public:
- Make it easy to figure out where to post a question by having a list of communities, easy-to-use search, and a single obvious community or ESN group for each important topic
- Provide ways to ask questions on behalf of others, including anonymous ask-the-expert tools
- Redirect queries you receive, and ask others who frequently receive queries to do the same
- Ask call centers, support hotlines, help desk operators, and contact email box owners to answer in communities, not by email, instant message, or other private channels
- Use a combination of ESN groups and FAQ lists to reply to queries—copying Q&A from the ESN group into the FAQ list, and then linking to the FAQ list the next time a similar question is posted
- Make sure questions are answered—people who are brave enough to overcome their fear of asking in the open should be rewarded for doing so by receiving useful, timely, and varied answers
- Recognize those who ask in public by thanking and praising them for doing so
- Provide a points recognition system, and give points to those who post questions and to those who provide answers
- Train people on how to find the right place to ask questions and the most effective ways to ask for help; remind them they should acknowledge those who provide answers by replying back in the same thread as the initial post.
The above is an excerpt from my book published by Lucidea Press, Proven Practices for Promoting a Knowledge Management Program, Chapter 10: “Nurture a Knowledge-Sharing Culture”. Please also read my posts offering advice and insights drawn from many years as a KM practitioner, and you may want to learn how Lucidea’s Inmagic Presto enables users to find, not just search!
V. Mary Abraham is an author, consultant and facilitator who has been active in legal industry knowledge management since 1991.
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