If you were to think of a recent conversation you had with a friend or family member, it probably went something like this: You started the conversation with a question, listened to the response, and then after the response, you responded. The conversation probably went back and forth between you and the other person with both of you asking questions, listening, and responding. Your conversation with an opinion leader should have that same cadence, with you asking a good question when starting or shortly after, listening carefully to the response, perhaps having the opinion leader ask a question, then sharing information.
The key to a good conversation with an opinion leader, one that brings both of you value, is that you not only ask questions, but you ask good questions. Good questions:
- Uncover or clarify information – A question should uncover information that you, as the MSL, didn’t know and that contributes to the conversation and advances your quest to bring value to the opinion leader. Or the question might clarify something you heard from the opinion leader. Maybe the opinion leader made a comment you didn’t quite understand or didn’t hear well; then a clarifying question would be in order. Asking a clarifying question demonstrates respect.
- Encourage the opinion leader to think – Questions should invite the opinion leader to think or should challenge him or her to formulate an answer. If your questions don’t encourage the opinion leader to consider something, then the response serves only you. Good questions bring value to the conversation for both of you by challenging the opinion leader to give a good response and/or consider alternatives he or she hadn’t considered before.
- Advance the conversation – A good question should continue the conversation. Statements often end conversations, so asking a good, thought-provoking question can help advance the conversation toward a conclusion that brings value to the opinion leader.
Asking Strategic Questions
Incorporating good strategic questions into your conversation is a skill you can develop through planning, practice, and refinement. Strategic questions are well thought out and uncover valuable information. A strategic question is:
An open-ended question that uncovers valuable information that advances the conversation
When asking good strategic questions:
1. Plan the questions ahead of time.
Before you make the call on the opinion leader, think about what you want to share, what you have spoken to him or her about in the past, and what you need to uncover. Then write a few strategic questions you can ask during the conversation. The act of writing them helps to solidify your thoughts.
2. Ask the question sincerely, concisely, and clearly.
Ask good questions in a way that communicates to the opinion leader that you want to hear his or her response. Look at the opinion leader directly and confidently ask the question. Your eye contact with the opinion leader not only communicates confidence but also helps you understand the response. Your question should be concise and clear. Using too many words when asking a question can be confusing and ambiguous.
3. Listen and watch.
When the opinion leader responds to the question, listen to understand the meaning of the response, not to generate your response. Too often we start to formulate a response to another person’s question before the person has finished speaking. As the opinion leader responds, carefully watch him or her. We subconsciously pick up subtle cues about what people are trying to communicate from their body language, so your understanding will increase through observation.
Asking good strategic questions during a conversation is normal, so you should integrate asking these questions into the conversations you have with opinion leaders. Strategic questions uncover valuable information and advance the conversation. You also can use them to clarify what the opinion leader said. Plan your strategic questions and then ask them in a way that is sincere, concise, and clear. After asking a good strategic question, listen to and observe the opinion leader to capture the essence of what he or she is communicating. Asking questions is a key tool that, with a little practice, can significantly enhance the quality of the conversations you have with your opinion leaders.