Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Speakers ask: "What if nobody asks a question?" 6 options

When I'm coaching individual speakers or training a group of speakers and presenters, the question I get most often is about...questions. What if you don't get any questions after your talk, presentation or speech?

Let's face it: A lack of questions is a bad sign, speakers. But what does it mean, and what can you do to generate questions? Here are some reasons and solutions to consider:
  1. Did you pack too much into your presentation? When you cover your topic like a blanket, you're not leaving much room for questions to arise and emerge. I've yet to work with the client who lacked material to deliver, and all of my trainees are looking for ways to create more room for their plentiful facts in a presentation. My suggestion: If you've got lots to say, save some facts for the Q&A. You'll look smarter and give your audience room to participate.
  2. Did you allow enough time for questions? Some speakers manage to suck all the oxygen out of the room, often by filling up all the allotted time or failing to build in pauses during which they could be engaging the audience directly. Your audience wants to do more than just applaud, as you'll find out if you use the advantages of the speaker who allows extra time.
  3. Did you announce up front that you would be looking for questions? Instead of launching into your talk, take a moment to say, "My presentation is about 15 minutes and then I very much want to save the bulk of our time today for your questions," right at the beginning. You'll then have done two wonderful things, by warning the audience you won't be using all the oxygen in the room and by inviting them to start thinking about what they want to say. 
  4. Did you walk the talk about questions? You can demonstrate your willingness to receive questions before you ever begin talking, by wandering into the audience as it gets settled to shake hands with people or greeting them at the door, saying, "I'm eager to hear what you have to say on this topic." You can even start with Q&A, taking a handful of questions right away, then promising to cycle back to answer them after your talk.
  5. Are your answers too long? Questions aren't an excuse to give another mini-talk, but many speakers treat them that way. Let the audience get a word in edgewise to keep the engagement going.
  6. Did you work with the moderator or host beforehand? A word with your moderator, chair or host before your talk can prompt her to be ready with the first question, after which she can turn to the group and say "Who else would like to ask something?"
One tactic to lose: Don't plant questions in the audience by giving friends questions to ask in case you don't hear any. This inauthentic approach can backfire and ruin your credibility.