I wrote about ways to connect with your audience before. One topic I didn’t address then was asking the audience questions. Sometimes speakers want to engage with the audience by asking them a question. Often, these are simple questions (“who in the room works for an agency?”).
Sometimes the questions are more complicated. These have a high-risk factor in them. The audience might not respond. And if they don’t, it leaves you with an awkward ‘silence’. Unfortunately, you can see this happen quite often.
To avoid this from happening, there is a different way to get the engagement of the audience, using questions.
What not to ask
Let me start by saying what you shouldn’t do when asking a question. The first thing is simple: don’t ask a rhetorical or vague question. Asking ‘Don’t you feel this is a bad idea?’ will only make your audience gaze at you. You’re more or less saying you don’t want an answer.
If you don’t want an answer, don’t ask a question!
Second, if you are not specific enough, the audience will not know what you want from them. Asking ‘what do you know about X, Y or Z’ will not get you many answers. A question like “what are common believes you’ve heard about topic X, Y or Z’, will get you more answers. Why? Because it’s more specific and less ‘personal’. People are not afraid to answer that one.
The answer: Ask a series of questions
Before asking any question, you need to realise why you are asking a question. Is it ‘only’ to connect? Or are you trying to make a point? Chances are, you want to make a point. That means you want people to interact with you on a specific question.
You can ask a series of questions, building up to the ‘big one’. Build towards the answer to the ‘big question’ by asking several smaller ones.
Let’s say you want to emphasize the importance of using the right icons on an app to an audience of marketers. The point you want to make is that if you build an app, you want to use icons that people recognise.
To get them involved, you want to draw upon common concepts that are familiar to the audience. This will help lead them to the answer you want. In this case, you want to make clear that when building an app, use icons that people will understand.
You can then show a group of icons on the screen and ask “which icon represents the call button?”
Most likely, the audience will be able to point that out, since they’ve all seen these icons before. The follow-up question would then be “how do you know that icon represents the call button?” Again the audience will know the answer. Chances are they will say “because it has a phone on it”. The third question then is the key question. “Why do you think they use a picture of a phone for this function?” The audience will answer “because people recognise it.”
You’ve now made your point. If you build an app, you want to use icons that people recognise.
Of course, this is a very simple example of a relatively easy concept (we all know this, right?). The concept stays the same on different topics. Draw upon what people know and build towards the desired response.