The best question I’ve found to open a training session or strategic planning workshop

Jeopardy Clue - 1

About a year ago, I was preparing a workshop when my co-facilitator suggested that we add a question into the opening icebreaker activity.

The question seemed a little too touchy-feely for me, but he was persistent, so we left the question in. I wasn’t expecting very high quality responses, and I was surprised when people actually gave sincere answers to the question.

It worked so well that I have since incorporated it into the opening of many of my training sessions and strategic planning workshops.

The question is: Is there anything holding you back from being fully present today?

Jeopardy - Alex Trebek

About a week ago, I kicked off a session with a client using this question, and then I modeled it for everyone. I’ve found the answers are more sincere when I’m willing to be honest in answering the question first.

Some people showed up last week to my session and they were ready to go, no distractors. Some people may not have felt comfortable responding honestly in front of the room with a sincere answer, so they also told me they were ready to go.

One person was just back from vacation and was a little anxious to get caught up on her emails, so she didn’t love the fact that she would be in this session all day.

Several other people had a deadline looming and also shared that they would have preferred to have been at their desks, cranking out work and meeting deadlines.

It was a good reminder to me (and to the executives in the room) that this full day, during which I had been asked to facilitate some teambuilding exercises and introduce some analysis tools, better be worth people’s while… they literally had better things they could be doing.

At the end of the day we came back to this question and (thankfully) the people who were concerned about their emails earlier in the day reported that they had (somewhat to their surprise) felt engaged throughout the day.

Opening with that simple question allows me to gauge the temperature of the room from the start. It allows everyone else in the room to get a feel for what’s on everyone’s mind. Several people have reported to me that it’s also somewhat cathartic to just let that issue or distraction out, and they’re immediately able to focus on the topic at hand.

If you’re up for it, try this question on for size at the start of your next session… and then drop me a line and let me know how it goes.

What have you found to be an effective opening question to engage your learners and that helps you begin to develop rapport?


Looking for more in-depth icebreaking activities? Try this!

Want some ideas to gauge whether your icebreaker is any good? Ask these 5 questions.

2 thoughts on “The best question I’ve found to open a training session or strategic planning workshop

  1. I like this question, but I’m interested in knowing how you proceeded once everyone answered their questions. Was it a simple, “Ok then, that’s our distractors today” or did you summarize in any way?

    • You know, that’s a good question. Generally I frame the question and offer the intent behind it, and then I allow the group to do with the information as they will. If someone says: “I’m struggling a little this morning because we had to put our dog to sleep this weekend,” then I won’t make a big deal about it. I’ll generally say: “I’m sorry to hear that. Thank you for sharing.” And I’ll move on to the next person. And I’ll make an assumption that if that person is in a small group and seeming a little withdrawn, the group will know why. And I’ll also hope that the design of the day is crafted well-enough to overcome the distractors.

      At the end of the entire group introductions, after everyone has spoken, I won’t normally summarize or say “There you have it ladies and gentlemen, our distractors for the day!” – I’ll typically say something along the lines of: “Thank you all for sharing. Now we have a feel for where everyone is as we start the day. My hope is that we have a day full of activities and content that will keep everyone engaged!”

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