Prompting Statement

When a group of experts speak in public, they must maintain a connection with their audience by speaking to them, not each other.

This makes resolution of a question in one speaker's mind difficult since a direct query to a peer breaks the audience connection. A direct question, like "How did you handle this, Fred?", also traps Fred into answering you instead of speaking his thoughts in turn.

therefore: Ask a question of your peers by making a partial statement to your audience.

You can trust your peers to have been following the flow of your discourse and to have recognized the omission in your statement. A brief pause will yield the floor to your colleagues who can pick up the thought, approach your question from what ever angle they find most comfortable, and still not lose contact with the audience.

The technique is particularly handy in the People, Projects and Patterns database (wiki) where everyone is an author, an expert among peers. For example, should you wish an elaboration on a statement like,

blah, blah, then I wrote a Smalltalk compiler to blah, blah, blah

you simply revise the statement to reference an incomplete page that could, when finished, answer your questions. The link looks like,

blah, blah, then I wrote a Smalltalk Compiler to blah, blah, blah

The incomplete Smalltalk Compiler page is your prompting statement. The link you make in your colleague's prose is just your way of calling attention to your own omissions. Wait a few days then look there for your answers. The completed text has the advantage of not reading like a dialog. The other readers will think the two of you were speaking directly to them.


This wiki usage, observed in the '90s and written as a pattern then, has been misquoted and survives in its mutant form as an internet meme. See Cunningham's Law

I wrote this as advice to speakers because I had been delighted to have this happen many times with Kent Beck as we explained our unique experiences exploring object-oriented programming technique in the '80s.

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