Questions are a great tool to use in your presentation, but it’s important to know the different types of questions and how to use them properly.

There are basically two types of questions, those that need an answer and those that don’t. Questions that need an answer are called Direct Questions, those that don’t require an answer are called Rhetorical Questions.

Let’s take a close look at each of these.

1. Direct Questions

Direct questions have many advantages. They engage the audience and they make a presentation interactive and interesting. However, they can also be dangerous for a presentation. Nearly everyone has witnessed an awkward moment in someone’s presentation when they asked the audience a question and ………………………… nothing happened……………………..silence.

This silence is not normal because they have nothing to ask. You see, just as you might be nervous speaking in public, so is your audience. Nobody wants to be the first to speak… ‘What if I answer incorrectly?’, ‘What if the answer comes out all jumbled up?’, ‘What if my voice cracks?’, ‘What if everyone laughs?’ These are the type of thoughts running around in the mind of your audience during an awkward silence after a question is asked.

Direct Questions are like fishing (notice the simile). Just like a fish, you need to hook your audience and reel them in, not letting them escape.

Tips for Great Direct Questions

  • Make sure the question is short and you ‘chunk’ (pause, stress, emphasize) around it properly. This will ensure that everyone HEARS the question.
  • Make the answers easy, especially if your audience is listening to your presentation in a foreign language. Closed questions that require only a yes/no answer, or questions that only need to be answered with a single word are great if you think your audience may have difficulty producing a long answer.
  • Provide a choice of answers that the audience can choose from or use as a model. This helps them to understand the point of the question and the kind of answer expected.
  • Move into your audience when you ask a question. Distance becomes a barrier which your audience can hide behind.
  • Ask your whole audience the question and then zero in on a specific person and repeat. The person that you zero in on should be a person that has engaged with you during your presentation i.e. made eye contact, nodded, made notes etc. This is the type of person who can be ‘reeled in’. You must read your audience.

Look the example below. In this example the speaker does a number of important things. The speaker indicates a questions, introduces the topic, pauses at key moments, emphasizes key words, asks the entire audience the questions, provides examples of the required response, and then selects one member of the audience to ‘hook’ and ‘reel in’.

“An important question before we begin today. Public speaking, ( pause) how does it make you feel? (pause) Just one word – excited, nervous, terrified? (pause) Ma’am, one word from you. How does public speaking make you feel?”

2. Rhetorical Questions

Rhetorical questions are more common than you may think. We use them in day to day communication often. Wasn’t that a great movie?  Don’t you know what time it is? Are you crazy? Can you imagine that? These are all examples of everyday rhetorical questions.

These type of questions don’t need an answer, they are used for effect, to persuade, to highlight a point, or to clarify a concept.  They make your audience think. They influence your audience.

Some of the greatest speeches of all time have included clever rhetorical questions. Many famous songs also include rhetorical questions

Rhetorical questions can be used in different ways for different purposes. Take a look at these examples:

How much time do you spend stuck in traffic getting to and from work? How much money do you spend on petrol and parking? Wouldn’t it be better to consider an alternative kind of transportation?
Setting regular goals is the key to motivation. What goals have you set for yourself this week?
Technology is an essential part of your life. What would you do without your laptop, smartphone, or GPS?
Why should we pay tax? How does it really benefit us?

Tips for Great Rhetorical Questions

  • Make sure the context is clear. If need be, lead in with a short statement. An example of this can be seen in the technology questions above.
  • The answers to rhetorical questions need to be obvious. Make sure your questions aren’t obscure.
  • KISS – Keep it short and sweet. The longer the rhetorical question, the harder it will be for your audience to understand it and think it over,

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