Imagine this scenario: you are summoned to a group meeting to discuss the company’s restructuring. Your boss lays out the plan and 30-minutes later, asks if there are any questions. The atmosphere is tense. Everyone is silent. Then someone raises a hand and asks an intelligent question, and other questions soon follow. The first questioner displayed courageous communication and the confidence to verbalize what others were thinking. In essence, the question opened a gateway for others to ask their own.
People like to be asked for their opinion. It gives them agency and authority. Asking a question denotes a measure of humility and can help bridge across ranks and levels of responsibility. It’s a great way to break the ice and spark curiosity in others. This goes for the presenter as well as meeting attendees or audience members.
Asking questions is also a powerful technique to engage audiences in ways that turn your talk into a conversation. In a video conference, you can check in with your virtual audience, make sure they are alert and paying attention, and break the monotony of one-way communication. In the physical world, asking the right question brings your audience along on your journey so they can see themselves in your story.
You can become a more compelling and confident presenter and speaker by asking, not telling, in the right situations, writes Matt Abrahams, a lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Besides fostering audience engagement, a well-timed question can help you remember what to say if you experience a brain freeze or need to calm your nerves. Sharing the spotlight with your audience helps you feel more grounded and more responsive to what interests them.
The Q+A portion of your talk is where you affirm that the audience was listening and has been informed, challenged, and inspired. But when should you take those questions? I urge you NOT to leave them for the very end.
When speaking online, work in pauses in your content where you invite questions. This keeps people tuned in and less prone to multitask while you talk. In person, structure your presentation with the Q+A part of the agenda preceding the closing remarks. This allows you to give a strong and memorable conclusion where you underscore the big idea and the call to action.
Here are five ways you can use questions to your advantage when you present:
1. Create intrigue by stating a shocking statistic in the form of a question.
Did you know that one million species are at risk of extinction by climate change?
Questions like this one make for a great opener and challenge the listener to think deeply about the issue.
2. Poll your audience and make them part of your argument or narrative. Ask for a show of hands or ask them to stand. Run an online poll using the video streaming platform’s native feature or an app like Mentimeter.
How many of you recycle at home and work?
3. Stir their imagination by taking them on a trip to the future or to the past. Imagine a future where genetically engineered pigs will provide organs for transplant patients?
Who here grew up in an analog world of coin-operated phone booths?
4. Ask a rhetorical question to check in with the audience even if you don’t expect an answer.
Are you ready to get started?
How does that sound to you?
5. Ask for their opinion, though you may not agree. Your audience will feel like they are more a part of your talk and that they are adding value to the topic.
Do you think we should invest in human travel to Mars?
Next time you create and deliver a presentation, consider the versatility of the question as a communication tool. From staff meetings to keynotes, it can yield myriad benefits for you and your audience and demonstrate confidence and the courage of your convictions.
P.S. Private coaching makes perfect. Office hours with Rosemary are available. I will work with you privately to polish your public speaking and boost your credibility online and in person, in English or Spanish. Schedule a discovery call with me and get started.