How to ask a question at a public event

Don't let fear keep you schtum. Ask that question, but ask it well.

How to ask a question at a public event

Recently I watched a video of a client giving a presentation. He was one of three speakers, and after he’d finished speaking, the audience could ask the speakers questions, which one chap did. Well, if you imagine a word salad, thrown into a tray of Alphabites seasoned with enigma pepper, you’re halfway to understanding how indecipherable the question was. The eyes of the speakers danced around as they tried to work out what the questioner was on about. But then he stopped speaking, signalling that he was ready for his answer; all that the speakers could muster was, “I don’t know.” 

It never feels good when, as a presenter, you have to respond to a question with “I don’t know” - although it’s always preferable to blagging - but in this instance, the “I don’t know” had nothing to do with the speakers’ knowledge and everything to do with the questioner’s inability to pose a clear question. 

Now, I appreciate that posing a question publicly can be scary; especially if the room is silent and nobody yet has asked a thing. But if there is something you want to ask at a public event, be guided by these do’s and don’ts….

  • Do: Ask a question if it relates directly to the topic the speaker / panel has discussed and should interest most of the people in the room. 
  • Don’t: Ask an obscure question because it’s in an area of interest to you and you think the speaker might also share your interest. 
  • Do: Keep the question to-the-point. I’m a big fan of the Statement / Question approach. So make a factual, evidence-based statement and follow it up with a question. I.e: “By three months, 64% of mothers who started exclusively breastfeeding have stopped. Does this tell us that modern life and breastfeeding aren’t compatible for the majority of women?”
  • Dont: Open with a meandering, personal speech, i.e: “So I started breastfeeding and that was something I really wanted to do because all the evidence says it’s for the best. Although my friend Rachel, who did breastfeed with her first, says the evidence should be taken with a pinch of salt. But anyway, I started…” Get on with it!
  • Do: Speak slowly and - if there’s no mic - throw your voice to the back of the room. If you’re worried about projecting, then push the palms of your hands into your thighs; this will cause your diaphragm to descend, which will help with projection. 

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