Why? Why? Why? Digging to get the right answer

December 1, 2017

Dana’s Meeting Minutes is based on the Meeting Planning Triangle©. Click here for a link.

We ask a question:

Why didn’t you attend the event?


They answer:

We can’t attend events on week nights.


We respond:

Schedule the next event for a weekend.


The real reason:

The programming doesn’t fit their needs.


In questioning, the goal is to find root causes to act on. That is rarely revealed with one response. It takes two, or three, or more questions to dig deep enough to uncover the true reason for a person’s choice and/or behavior.



Tip #1

Define your objective

  • Clearly identify exactly what you want to know.

  • For example, you don’t want to know why registration is dropping, you want to know why your target audience does not value your event enough to invest resources (time and money) to participate.

Tip #2

Know when to change your question-asking strategy

  • When answers are not diverse and you know they should be.

  • When the same people respond to surveys.

  • When answers support the status quo, but the status quo is being criticized, isn’t being supported, or no longer results in valuable R.O.I.

Tip #3

Ask questions that reveal the real answers

  • Ask like a child. Why? But, why? But, why?

  • Ask questions about the answers you get. For example:

    • Why didn’t you attend the meeting? It’s on a week night.

    • Would you attend if we scheduled it for a weekend? No.

    • Why not? Because I don’t want to spend my precious weekend time attending an event that gives me nothing. I get more from these great webinars I found online.

  • Listen for the real reason so you can respond to the real problem. In this real example, the association is not fulfilling the person’s needs. The problem is content, not timing.



Aim for quality, not quantity

When asking probing questions, you’ll be most productive by asking individuals and small groups of people, rather than rely on a widely-distributed survey.


Question people who are not doing what you want them to be doing. For example, don’t ask event attendees how to improve attendance, seek out those who don’t show up.


As you question the right people, think of yourself an investigative reporter seeking the truth. That means you need to be curious and persistent; not settling for first responses or rote answers.



The questions listed in The 6 Post-Event Survey Questions That Will Reveal Your Meeting’s Effectiveness by Ira Kerns for MeetingsNet are great to use for deep digging.


Check out How to Be Amazingly Good at Asking Questions by Mike Martel for Lifehack.


Information disclaimer: WANT MORE? references do not imply an endorsement for any company, product, or service.





Dana L. Saal, CMP, CAE, has been planning meetings for associations for more than 30 years. She recently decided that coaching meeting planners is now more fun than proofing BEOs, counting coffee cups and writing scripts. If you think a bit of coaching could improve your meeting, send a message via her website.

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