Getting Over Yourself

October 25, 2012

Questions aren’t the best way to engage an audience


In spite of what you may have heard, asking the wrong questions or asking them in the wrong way can turn off your audience rather than engage them.

I’ve heard too many people who apparently are just blindly following the “the best way to engage your audience is to start by asking them questions” advice. And, I have to struggle to stay with them rather than give up on them.

To say, “How many of you want to make more money?” is going to turn off at least one-third of your audience–and probably more. This question is almost always asked with the expectation that you will answer them by raising your hand. To those annoyed people, it sounds manipulative. It’s not a sure fire connector. And, often when asking a question of this sort, the speaker won’t go on until you answer. Bad idea.

If you ask a question and want an answer, it needs to be one that makes the audience feel needed. They can see that answering the question is going to help you. So, a survey question–if you really want to know the answer–can engage your audience.

And, if your question is more rhetorical, don’t make them answer and don’t pause so long they feel they are expected.

Plus, many times saying “Have any of you ever . . . ?” doesn’t require them to raise hands and you’ll be able to see the response in their body language. Maybe they nod their heads, or their eyes show that they’re right there with you. And you can continue fairly quickly by saying, “me, too,” or “then you’ll be able to relate” or “not to relate, but here’s why I think it can make a difference to you.”

So, not just any question. But questions that make the audience feel like they’re helping you move forward. And questions that you’d really like to know the answer to before you go on.

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