Use Questions to Steer Your Presentation

Use Questions to Steer Your Presentation

Do you ask lots of questions when you present? Don’t just tell your audience; ask more questions.

Why Ask Questions?

When your audience is asked a question they automatically seek out the answer in their own minds. The lights literally go on in their brains (brain scans illustrate this). Your audience is immediately more engaged and actively listening.

‘Why is it so?’ became a household phrase in Australia and North America from the sixties to the eighties due to Physicist, Professor Julius Sumner Miller’s appearances on TV demonstrating intriguing mysteries of physics.

He would ask questions such as:
  • How tall a mirror do you need to see all of you?
  • What would happen if there were no friction in the world?
  • How do waves break?

The Professor’s goal was ‘to stir interest, awaken enthusiasm, arouse curiosity, kindle a feeling, fire up the imagination.’

Here are suggestions about how to ask an intriguing question:
  1. Instead of going straight in with, ‘John P. Kotter says about Change Management . . . ’ preface your statement with a leading question such as, ‘What do the experts say?’
  2. Rather than, ‘The Australian Bureau of Statistics report on . . . ’ you can pose, ‘Where can we find evidence for this?’
  3. Instead of assuming, ‘I’m sure you read the article this week about . . . ’ ask, ‘Did you see the article this week about . . . ?’
  4. Rather than the assumption, ‘You all know Amazon dot com’, pose a question, ‘Who is familiar with Amazon dot com?’ In any group, it’s possible one person is not familiar with something the other 99% are.
  5. Instead of telling, ‘Here’s what you can do’, ask, ‘How can you make a difference?’
How To Start A Question

Consider Rudyard Kipling’s poem:

I keep six honest serving-men (They taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When And How and Where and Who.

These six questions — who, what, where, when, why and how — are known as the ‘journalist’s credo’. In journalism the six Ws (the sixth word ends in ‘w’) are regarded as essential to information-gathering.

Use these six words to spice up your presentation with more questions.

Open With A Question

You can capture your audience’s attention by opening with a dramatic question:

  • Do you know what’s really scary about . . . ?
  • Have you ever wondered why . . . ?
Segue Questions

Questions are useful segues — (pronounced ‘seg-way’) — devices to move a speaker smoothly to the next section or theme of a presentation.

For example, ‘Now that I’ve . . . [explained how Customer Relationship Management works] . . . the question remains, [what frequency is just right for staying in touch with clients]?’

Rhetorical Question

A rhetorical question is asked for effect; an answer is not expected.

When Mark Antony in Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar, asked, ‘Was this ambition?’, he meant it as a rhetorical question. Bob Dylan’s song ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ is full of rhetorical questions, ‘How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?’

In a presentation, add rhetorical questions.

Thought-Provoking Questions

You can conclude your talk with a startling question to get people thinking and talking. For example: ‘Suppose you were given the opportunity to send three small items and a short message in a deep-space probe that might be found by aliens . . . What would you send? What would your message be?’

A question like that will send your listeners on a mental journey seeking the answer.

  1. For any statements in your presentation, ask yourself, ‘How can I restate this as a question?’
  2. Identify segue transition points in your presentation and lead into the next section with a question.
  3. Is there a question that would make a dramatic conclusion?

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