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How to Use the Power of Questions
by Chris King

Sam Deep and Lyle Sussman in their excellent book What to Ask When You Don’t Know What to Say write, “Questions have the power to turn confusion into clarity, resistance into acceptance, division into consensus, and the frustration of not knowing what to say into the satisfaction of having said it. …

Simply understand and accept what effective communicators already know: Questions are magic.” As presenters, we need to know and realize the power of asking questions — before, during, and after our presentations. In this article, I will share some ideas about how to use the magic of questions.

Don’t ever hesitate to ASK. Recently a man who was taking one of my classes shared that he had experienced an incredible hour of face-to-face interaction with Brian Tracy, the well known speaker and author. He was attending a convention where Tracy was the featured speaker. “How much did you have to pay for this?” asked another attendee. “The price of a cup of coffee,” was the answer. My student had called Tracy ahead of time and asked if they could meet for coffee sometime during the convention.

Oftentimes, all we need to do is ASK for something we want and we will be happily rewarded by receiving it. Just remember, that the worst that can happen is that the answer might be, “No.” If you want to present to a particular company, association, or group, find out who is in charge of picking the speakers and ask if you can send information and/or be considered. If you want to be included on a special mailing list, ask if they will add your name and address. If you have accomplished some special feat and want to be featured in an article, you now know the answer — ask.

Customize your presentations by asking questions beforehand. There is nothing that will endear you to an audience more than speaking directly to the participants’ interests and concerns. And, how do you find out what those interests and concerns are? By asking questions. Once you have been hired to give a presentation to a particular group, ask for the phone numbers and/or e-mail addresses (personally, I prefer phone numbers, because I feel that actually speaking is more effective, but that is sometimes impossible) of the employees and/or members of the group.

Make a list of questions that are pertinent to your topic, always including the question, “Is there anyone else you think I should contact?” I have found that the people I contact love to share their ideas, are pleased that they were chosen to answer questions, and are already impressed by you before you arrive to speak and, therefore, greet you with enthusiasm. The answers will also help you design a more powerful and meaningful presentation for this particular group than you could without this additional information.

Have questions ready to ask during your presentation. People listen when they are given the opportunity to interact with the speaker. Unless you have very little time, you will capture audience attention by asking a pertinent question, and letting participants give answers. Or, let them ask questions. Just make sure that in either case, if there isn’t a microphone available out in the audience that you repeat the answers and/or questions for the whole group to hear.

The hardest part of audience participation is keeping control without being too authoritative. I suggest starting to use these techniques with a small group and in a workshop setting. Once, however, you become comfortable with asking and answering questions, you will definitely agree that “Questions are magic.”

Follow-up a presentation with questions. There are several questions to ask after you have given a presentation. Some speakers use written evaluations, which can be both enlightening and disturbing. Some disgruntled members of the audience can be brutal with their comments. I suggest rather than including the usual scales, merely ask two questions on the evaluation sheet: “What did you enjoy most about the presentation?” and “What would you suggest changing about or adding to the presentation?”

Ask the meeting planner what the general reaction was after you finished and follow-up later with the individuals. Ask if there were any changes made or ideas implemented as a result of your presentation. I know effective speakers who get names and addresses of the participants and then send out returnable post cards as a follow-up (especially if you want to work for or speak to this company / organization / group in the future).

Just remember that asking good questions will work their magic. But, also remember that the excellent communicator not only asks questions, he and/or she listens to the answers.

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