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:
- Say something like, “You know, one of the questions I’m asked a lot is…” and answer it yourself.
- Ask an audience member a specific question, such as, “I spoke about Subject X earlier. What did you think about that?”
- 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.
Brad, one small psychological trick that can help in this situation is to change from the plural to the singular in your prompt. “Does anyone have any questions” is an abstract. Each audience member wonders right along with you.. “Yeah, I wonder if anyone does?” They have no personal responsibility to take action. Change to “Do you have a question?” or “What are your thoughts?” and it puts the onus back on the individual to do something.
An even stronger cue is to give them a direct command to take action in a specific way. “Now it’s your turn to guide the discussion. Raise your hand and ask me what I should clarify or go into more detail on.”
You are shifting the entire psychological dynamic from “Sit quietly and listen while I talk at you” to the reverse. That is hard inertia to overcome, and you need to be very specific about how they are to make the change.
Thank you so much for your comment – that’s terrific advice. I will begin experimenting with all of your suggested phrases during my media training workshop next Monday, and will report back about my experience.
One of the best part of this blog is learning from readers who have more expertise on a given subject than I do. Thanks for taking the time to leave your comment and provide me with a quality education.
Great suggestions for getting an audience to participate. I think the subtle psychological difference in asking for “thoughts” instead of questions is that many people wonder how their question makes them look. Is my question a dumb question or of interest to others? Is it too confrontational? Will I look smart or uninformed? Once the stage is set by a few questions or comments, people become a bit more brave.