A Better Solution To "Do You Have Any Questions?"

If you’re like most speakers, you probably get to the end of your presentation and open up the floor by asking “Do you have any questions?”

Unfortunately, many people in an audience are uncomfortable being the first one to speak. Sometimes, no one says anything at all. You may pause for a few seconds in the hopes that someone will eventually break the silence—but sometimes they don’t.

Speakers can do several things in that situation, including these three techniques:

  1. Say something like, “You know, one of the questions I’m asked a lot is…” and answer it yourself.
  2. Ask an audience member a specific question, such as, “I spoke about Subject X earlier. What did you think about that?”
  3. Use an icebreaker. I once read about a speaker who used this joke: “Since no one wants to ask the first question, does anyone want to ask the second one?”

But during a recent visit to a historical site, I saw an approach to soliciting feedback that I liked even better. My wife and I visited the home of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Hyde Park, New York. Our excellent tour guide paused every few minutes to allow his audience to interact with him. But instead of saying, “Does anyone have any questions,” he phrased his query slightly differently:

“Does anyone have any thoughts?”

That’s a subtle distinction, but possibly an important one. By asking for thoughts, he was allowing a much broader scope of interaction than he would have allowed by merely soliciting questions. He wanted to know if anything he had said had triggered an idea, surprised someone, or reminded someone of something related. And it seemed to work in that small group; almost every time he asked for thoughts, someone spoke up.

I’ve started experimenting with this slight linguistic twist. I don’t have enough data yet to know whether or not it makes a big difference. My early experiences suggest it may help—if not substantially, enough to warrant its usage.