Robert Catell spends much of his time making field visits to his employees. He runs National Grid USA, an energy utility company with employees across the Northeast.
When touring the firm's facilities, Catell likes to begin with an informal employee gathering. He speaks for about 10 to 15 minutes updating listeners on corporate news. Then he takes questions for 45 minutes.
"You need to be patient and wait for that first question," says Catell. "It's often easier to just keep talking when no one pipes up right away. But I don't fill the vacuum."
Instead, Catell remains silent. He makes friendly eye contact with employees in all parts of the room.
"Once you get past the first question, things start to flow," he adds. "We get a dialogue going."
To maximize give-and-take, Catell gives complete but succinct answers. He doesn't stray off topic or lapse into lecture mode.
When you lead Q&A sessions with your staff, follow Catell's lead and wait in silence for questioners to speak up. When they do, give short responses and allow for follow-up. Don't insert extraneous information or tell overly long anecdotes.
When giving your answer, look at the questioner for the first few seconds but then talk to the rest of the group as you finish your reply. That increases the odds you will engage others so they feel comfortable asking the next question.
To plant seeds for questions, prepare by listing general issues on a flip chart that you'd be willing to discuss. When employees scan your list of suggested topics or top priorities, they may ask to learn more.