Your audiences’ questions are gold! Here’s how to build them into your presentation so you talk to your audience and not at them.
We talk. They listen. Simple, right? We communicate because we have something to say to an audience. Whether we’re sharing next quarter’s sales goals, asking for a raise, writing a proposal for project funding, or publishing an op-ed on voting rights. Whatever the communication is, the roles are the same: We talk and they listen. We write; they read. At the end we might ask for their questions or feedback. But while we hold the floor – or the pen – it feels as if it’s a monologue – our monologue. But it’s not.
Your audience is always talking back to you. You just can’t hear it. That’s right. The audience is responding to you throughout your talk, or email, or presentation. But it’s in their head – so for you, it’s on “mute.” Want to try it out? Next time you are listening to a presentation, reading a letter to the editor, or watching the news, notice what is going on in your head. It’s not quiet in there, is it? You are constantly responding to the speaker or writer: you’re agreeing, disagreeing, asking questions - but no one would know it, because you have your “serious listening face,” on. (Unless you’re in the car, screaming back at the news like me!) How can you incorporate the audience into your communication? The simplest, most effective way to put the audience in your talk or writing is to incorporate their likely questions. It’s easy to do and it works with many types of communications. Here’s the steps:
Put yourself into your reader’s head and imagine their questions about your content. What questions would they ask? What questions would they want to ask but be embarrassed to say out loud? What concerns would they have? Write them all down. Read more here and here. .
Categorize those questions according to what part of your topic they relate to.
Number the questions in each category according to their importance to the audience. In other words, what is the audience’s most important question in each area?
Now integrate those audience questions right into your text, your slides, your script. Here’s some suggestions:
Use questions as slide titles for a presentation.
Consider an agenda that is all questions – they work beautifully to engage audiences.
Use questions as headings for an email or proposal.
Why do questions work so well? When you give voice to a question that is in your listener’s head, you show that you hear them, that you’ve thought about them, and that you take their needs seriously. You’re turning that monologue into a dialogue that includes, engages, and recognizes your audience. And they will hear you – even if you can’t hear them.
P.S. I've been talking about using questions rhetorically - you raise the audience's question yourself and then answer it. But what if you actually want to get answers from the audience? Here's an article about doing just that.