Green Eggs and the Boomerang

boo·mer·ang (boo-muh-rang)

noun: strategy used by skilled training professionals to throw the audience’s question back to the group without the presenter first providing an expert opinion or answer

That Flip Chart Gang

That Flip Chart Gang

I do not like that Flip Chart Gang

Would you like to boomerang?

I do not like that Flip Chart Gang,

I do not like to boomerang.

Even when someone asks?

They may have a task.

They may even ask.

But I will not do it Flip Chart Gang,

I will not throw back the question like a boomerang.

Would you, could you, in a small group?

I would not, could not in a small group.

I would not, could not with a large troupe.

Even if they have a task.

Even if they are brave enough to ask.

I will not do it Flip Chart Gang.

I will not throw the question back like a boomerang.

Would you try it once or twice?

I would not boomerang once,

I would not boomerang twice.

I’m the expert and giving up control is too high of a price.

Whether it’s in a large troupe,

Or if it’s in a small group,

Even if they have a task,

Even if they are brave enough to ask.

I will not do it Flip Chart Gang.

I will not throw the question back like a boomerang.

Give it a whirl, and you will see,

Let them answer just once and I’ll let you be.

I shall give it a whirl and honor your plea,

Just this once, if you let me be.

A question has been posed, what do you all think?

Hey! The audience’s answer doesn’t stink!

Maybe I am not the only one who is wise.

Maybe answers can come from any of these gals and guys.

Maybe I will boomerang more than once or twice.

Maybe giving up some control really isn’t that high of a price.

And it can happen in small groups!

And it can happen in large troupes!

The next time they have a task,

I will hold my answer when they ask.

Instead I will use the boomerang.

Thank you, thank you Flip Chart Gang!

Want to know more about empowering learners with the “Boomerang Technique”? Check out these related blog posts:

Involve Me And I Understand: The Boomerang

In my blog, I preach the virtues of getting creative and engaging learners in your training design. And it dawned on me that all I’m doing is telling you, I’m not involving you. It seems I’ve been a bit hypocritical. Over the weekend I threw together a short elearning module in an effort to begin making amends to everyone who comes to this blog.

Back in May 2013, I wrote The Boomerang: Answering Questions with Questions. While my post was full of sound adult learning theory and wisdom, it was limited because I told you about the concept but I didn’t involve you.

Today, I invite you to experience the power of the boomerang technique by completing a short elearning module.  Here are a few screen captures:

Boomerang 1  Boomerang 2

It’s a short program, and it’s not the most amazing visual extravaganza you might find in the world of elearning. But it is designed to allow a learner to not just read but to become involved in and to feel the impact of his or her choices.

Developing elearning doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t need to just be a series of click-through-and-read slides. And it can be created quite quickly (this one took a few hours to put together using Articulate Storyline). As one reader commented following a recent post about PowerPoint vs. Storyline, you can even speed the development of elearning modules by importing PowerPoint slides into Storyline (I imported the office-themed background from a PowerPoint template I downloaded from the Articulate community).

As the old proverb goes: Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I understand. I’m hoping to involve the readers of this blog a little more often, if that’s all right with you.

Boomerang Questions: Answering Questions with Questions

boomerang questions?Training Participant: “So when do we just break down and give them an answer?”

Me (the facilitator): “When do you think is the right time to break down and give them an answer?”

I was demonstrating the “boomerang technique” – not answering my learners’ questions directly but instead throwing the question back to the group.

Why are Boomerang Questions Useful?

I find boomerang questions useful for several reasons:

1) They allow other learners to share their experiences and expertise and get involved in the conversation.

2) The allows the facilitator to assess what the learners know and if they’re “getting it”.

3) Learners often have better answers rooted in a more familiar context for everyone in the room than the facilitator can give.

4) Asking a boomerang question demonstrates that the answers don’t always need to come from the front of the room (the facilitator) and offers an opportunity for the learners to take ownership over the learning.

5) Boomerang questions give the facilitator time to think, especially when you don’t have a good answer off the top of you head.

Boomerang questions remind me of a game called Questions Only from the improv show “Whose Line Is It Anyways” (check out a sample here). It’s a fun game, but as you can see from this link, even professional comedians who know they’re supposed to respond to questions with questions struggle to do it consistently.

It’s a simple concept, but it requires a conscious effort and some practice.

How do Participants React to Boomerang Questions?

Sometimes the reaction of participants can be amusement, and I’ve received such tongue in cheek responses such as: Didn’t your mother ever teach you to never answer a question with a question?

Sometimes the learners’ reaction can be frustration: You’re the teacher (or facilitator or expert or supervisor), just tell me what the answer is.

More often than not, the response is excitement. People like to be able to share their knowledge, experience and expertise. I’ve also found that when someone in the class offers an answer that I might have given, his fellow learners are more apt to give the idea credibility. The answer has come from “one of their own.”

Boomeranging in Order to Correct Errors

Sometimes the responses offered by the audience are incorrect. As a facilitator, you can’t let incorrect answers go. But it’s important to be mindful of how you correct the error.

During a diversity training, I once had a participant answer a question by telling me that breaking the law and stealing was ok in certain circumstances. Once again, I boomeranged the comment to the other learners: “What do you all think about that?” The participant’s co-workers, who had an established relationship with this gentleman, offered some counter opinions.

Boomeranging in One-on-One Supervisory Sessions

One final note about The Boomerang is that it’s an extremely effective tool in managing staff. One on one meetings with employees are one of the most important (and in my opinion under-utilized) training opportunities.

Checking in with direct reports on a regular basis and leading with questions is an incredible needs assessment opportunity.  And answering direct reports’ questions such as “What should I do in this situation?” not with your own answer but rather with a simple “Well, what do you think you should do?  What have you tried?  What have you done in the past that has worked?” can help direct reports own their challenges and begin to solve their own problems (with your gentle, probing, questioning guidance).  Asking questions and teaching direct reports to solve their own problems can free managers up to work on bigger picture work.

In Conclusion

Leading with questions and resisting the temptation to throw out your own answers and solutions can be a challenge.  As a trainer, facilitator, supervisor, it’s natural to want to be the “expert”, but using boomerang questions – in large-group or one-on-one settings – is a powerful tool in helping the learners own the learning.