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From the desk of Steve Lowell, Master Speaker and Mentor to those who speak in public.


Asking Questions, What’s the Point?

I was watching a motivational speaker do a session about finances. This speaker was a little too hyper for my taste, but he did do a good job of keeping my attention. He was loud, he was fast, and he was big on the stage. Every time he made a point, he’d hold his right hand straight up in the air, and he’d ask, “True, or true?” He’d then move over to his next point immediately.

In this particular case, he was clearly asking the question rhetorically, and his audience recognized that. It was a presentation tactic, because he really gave his audience no way to disagree, so this was just a little quirk that he included in his presentation, to make himself a little different from the rest of the speakers, and I must say it worked. I remembered him, and I’m writing about him right now.

However, I’ve seen too many speakers pose questions to their audience, and really give no chance for the audience to respond to the question, or, if the audience does get a chance to respond, there’s nothing done with that response information.

Let’s explore a few tips to help you be more effective at engaging your audience when asking questions.

First, only ask a question if you know the answer, or if an unexpected answer won’t disrupt your presentation. The next item, point #90, provides a great explanation for this.

Second, make sure your audience knows how to give you the answer. Give clear instructions, in order to avoid confusion. For example, asking, “Have you ever had to stand on your head?” doesn’t provide clear instructions on giving a response. Instead, if you give the audience this task, “Put your hand up if you’ve ever had to stand on your head,” it provides clear instructions on what’s expected as a response. Hands will either go up, or they won’t, and either way, you’ve been provided with a response.

Third, have a reason for asking for a response, and do something with the response. You could say, “Put your hand up if you’ve ever had to stand on your head.” And then, you could follow that up with, “I see that less than half the room has ever had to stand on their head. This shows that…” In this way, you’ve asked the audience for information, and your audience now knows why you wanted that information. They know the reason they either raised their hands or not.

So, what’s the lesson? Ask questions of your audience only if you have good reason to, and explain what that reason is, but also give clear instructions on how they’re to respond.

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