The Jury’s Out!

I was almost on jury duty last week – actually disappointed that I wasn’t. I showed up and simply wasn’t selected. The whole process is absolutely fascinating! (No doubt, I was the most excited person in the room.) Over a cup of coffee I read all the booklets, watched the orientation video, and ultimately sat in the courtroom (no coffee!) with the other 50 potential jurors watching the drama (the selection process that is) unfold.

The judge introduced himself, thanked us for our time and service (he must have done this ten times), and gave us an overview of the juror selection process.

Once we were all assembled in the courtroom, six potential jurors were selected to sit in the jury box and asked a series of questions by the judge. Some of the jurors had issues about being away from work, prepaid vacations, and other extenuating circumstances. Each of these situations were discussed by the attorneys and the judge one by one as the bailiff hit the “annoying sound” button preventing us from hearing the conversations. (Wouldn’t it be great if we all had an “annoying sound” button we could use whenever we were in a conversation we didn’t want to have?)

As the process continued, jurors would get dismissed as others were immediately selected as potential replacements. Each time, there was a roar of laughter as the judge would have to ask the same questions all over again with each new potential juror. I’m not sure why this was so funny, but it was.

Anyway, here are some of the questions that were asked by the judge.

What is your full name? What do you do for work? What is your marital status? What are some of your hobbies? What do you do for fun? What newspapers do you read? What magazines do you read? Do you have bumper stickers on your car? If so, what do they say? Have you ever served on a jury before? What do you think about the court system? Have you ever been sued? Have your ever sued someone? 

Although many of these questions seem light hearted, they help the judge and a couple of attorneys learn enough about you to determine whether you will be a good fit on the jury to suit their needs. The attorneys could decide at any time to select you or cast you aside like an old boot.

For some reason, I wanted to be called up in the jury box to get a crack at answering the questions. Partly because I would have loved the attention. (Of course!) But mostly because I had a story to tell and I was curious to see if it would get me dismissed. But I never got called for questioning and never told my story. Before 11:30AM, both attorneys declared that they were happy with the jurors in the box and before we knew it, the rest of us were dismissed and thanked once again for our service.

Getting the chance to watch the jury selection process reminded me how important it is to ask great questions and why it’s a skill worth developing. The better your questions, often, the better the answers. In fact, if you ask the right questions, you get the right answers. If you don’t ask the question, the answer is always no!

Asking great questions (and yes, getting great answers) is so important when it comes to selecting a jury and also for deciding if those we meet will be included in our network. Yes, it can be difficult to approach a total stranger, engage in conversation, and make a connection but asking well thought out questions helps make the whole approaching strangers’ thing much less daunting.

In fact, the best way to start a conversation, maintain an interesting dialogue, and learn something is by asking questions. Questions that will help you “break the ice”, learn, set the tone, get them engaged, and determine if you’ll both be serving jury duty together or not.

Here are some questions I like to ask to get great conversations started and have some fun!

Do you have bumper stickers on your car? (OK, I just added this one.)
My name is…and you are?
What type of work do you do? (If it’s not obvious.)
How did you get involved in that line of work?
Do you like what you do?
What’s the best part of your work?
What’s the worst part of your work?
What can you do to simply spend more time on the best parts?
How did you learn of this meeting?
Are you a “first timer” or have you been here before?
What brings you back to this meeting? (If they’re not a “first timer”.)
What are some of the other benefits?
Do you have a target market? If so, why? If not, why not?
Who are you ultimately looking to meet?
What professions are in the best position to refer you business?
How do you market your business?
What other groups do you attend?
How will you know if you had a great meeting today?
What do you do for fun outside of work?
How can I help you? (If I happen to like them!)

Hey, these questions aren’t the end all and be all, but they are for me. Of course, in a discussion, if other questions come to mind, I simply ask them. Remember, this is not a fixed set of questions that might be asked in a job interview. There is no set order and not every question is going to be appropriate. Come up with questions that make sense and work for you!

Did you notice that the questions I suggested above are open-ended and about the other person? They’re not designed to “fact find” or “size them up” as prospects. (“So, do you have a financial advisor?”)

Of course, don’t be afraid to ask specific questions about an industry, profession, company, or advice you may be seeking. That’s a big part of networking!

Often, I ask people questions that I would love to be asked of me. In fact, when I ask an interesting question, it’s fun to be asked, “How about yourself?”

Before attending your next cocktail party, association meeting, chamber mixer, conference, convention, trade show, study group, golf outing, networking function, or even your next business meeting, prepare questions ahead of time that would make you interesting, interested, and smarter.

Remember the goal is to make a great connection, develop important relationships, and avoid the use of the “annoying sound” button.

And don’t lead with the bumper sticker question.

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3 thoughts on “The Jury’s Out!

  1. Mary Kelly, PhD

    Great idea for the questions!
    Yes, the bumper sticker question is a great one, because it shows personality and of course, some bias. My single bumper sticker says Fear the Goat, for USNA in Annapolis.
    I’d also be surprised if anyone answered the “What do you think of the court system?” question completely honestly. Uhm, lengthy, slow, and expensive?
    Terrific blog!

  2. Eileen Cushing-Craig

    Great story, Michael, and also a great list of potential ice breaker questions. I am terrible at starting conversations and I think I could feel comfortable using this as a starter list. Cheers! Maybe you’ll get into that jury box next time.


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