Written by: Christina Butler
“There’s no such thing as a bad question.”
Many of us remember that line from our school days. I used to think it was a great way to encourage questions until I realized there actually are bad questions. Or, more specifically, there are bad ways to ask questions if you are a presenter who wants to engage your audience.
If I ask “Did you have a nice weekend?” you can tell me yes or no and then move on. If I want to form a connection with you through conversation, asking “What did you do that was fun this weekend?” strikes a moving dialogue.
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It’s the difference between closed-ended questions and open-ended questions. As presenters, to engage our audience we should strive for open-ended.
Open-ended questions create dialogue. A conversation is more engaging than a straight lecture.
Closed-ended questions close-off your conversation. If your audience can answer with a simple yes or no, you aren’t pulling engagement from them.
Some tips to keep in mind to effectively engage your audience with questions:
- Begin your question with words like how, why, and what instead of do, is, are, will.
- You can follow-up a closed-ended question and make it open-ended by saying “tell me why you think that…” or “explain that response.”
- Avoid asking questions like “does that make sense” or “is everyone following.” Not only are they closed-ended, but they put the audience member in a negative light if they respond by saying they don’t understand.
Here are some examples of how switching your phrasing will elicit dialogue from your audience.
Closed: Do you think this strategy could work in your department?
Open: What do you think about implementing this strategy in your department?
Closed: Is the deadline on everyone’s radar?
Open: What concerns or comments are there about the deadline?
Closed: Can I tell you a little more about this product?
Open: Where would you like to start our discussion about this product?
Closed: Does everyone understand?
Open: Who can summarize what we just covered?
Closed: Is this making sense?
Open: Where can I elaborate?
Remember, questions are your friend! Use them and invite them. A solid presenter encourages questions and does not run away from them. One last example as a way to end this post:
Closed: Do you have any questions about questions?
Open: What questions do you have about questions?