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Have you ever opened up a discussion or presentation to questions and heard crickets?
Did you ever want to ask a question but were too nervous to get there?
Or, have you ever asked a question, any question, just to appear more engaged in the conversation?
All three of these are pretty common concerns in the studio. Luckily they are solvable.
Asking Good (Better) Questions
The key to asking the best questions is to be an avid listener. If you listen deeply to what is happening you will determine some important things:
- Do you understand what is being presented? If not, you have a question.
- Is the information clear but provoking further thoughts or ideas? If so, you may have one or more questions.
- Are you interested in going deeper on the subject? You might have questions here.
- Are you completely uninterested in the topic on any level? In this case you may not have any questions. But, if this topic is relevant to your work your lack of interest will not serve you well. Perhaps your initial question can be, “How can I find relevance in this area?”
For those of you who are quick on your feet, listening deeply and launching into a response will seem easier. For those of you who need some processing time, or if they have asked people to hold questions until the end, you may need to take notes as you listen. You can also always ask if there is a way to ask questions that may come up later. It will get easier the more you do it. In general, open-ended questions are better for conversation but if what you have is a yes or no question, go for it.
Fine, I have a question but I am too nervous (or other charged state) to ask
The mechanics of actually asking are another issue. Our brain has an interesting way to alerting us that we are taking even a minimal risk. These physiological reactions are manageable but most people aren’t taught how. So you may encounter dry-mouthed, sweaty-palmed, heart-racing, breath-challenging roadblocks to looking poised while asking a question.
Here is a quick fix.
- Get the attention of the person directing the meeting/presentation/zoom to ask a question.
- Once you have it, exhale (even if you don’t think you have to exhale, trust me on this one).
- Smile and inhale. The smile triggers an oppositional response to your charge.
- If you are still nervous start with a brief thoughtful hum. An audible one. It will prime the voice and even out the onset of your tone.
- Ask your question. Smile and keep breathing. (Also, listening for your answer). You did it.
What if I’m running the presentation and get no questions?
This happens. For all of the reasons above and some that we don’t have time for in this piece. Sometimes people who have questions don’t ask them.
Sometimes the format of your presentation has made questions trickier to formulate. Whatever the reason you can jumpstart your own Q&A.
Determine the key points of your talk/presentation/meeting topic, you should know these pretty well. Pick a key point or two and ask if everyone is clear about those specifically. If there are questions people often ask about something, you can even say, “People often ask me ‘x’ about this topic, is that of interest to this group?” Or some such. If you still don’t get a bite, move on and invite people to reach out at a later time.
Failing to get questions may also activate your charge. In that case, you can use the tools above to manage the rest of your talk as your response settles down.
Do you have more questions? I am always happy to help so comment wherever you are seeing this or send me an email.
Gina Razón is the principal voice specialist at GROW Voice LLC, a full-service voice and speech studio in Boston’s Back Bay. She has over 18 years of experience both as a teacher of voice and speech, and a voraciously curious voice user. Gina has worked professionally as a classical singer for over a decade and more recently as a professional public speaker. For more information on the studio or to book Gina visit www.growvoice.com.