How can you ask better questions?

How do you feel about asking questions at the end or during a presentation, webinar or masterclass?

Do you worry about asking something that could make you seem silly?

Do you think it won’t interest anyone else?

Maybe you feel your question is obvious or simple and that everyone else in the audience knows the answer.

There’s lots of help out there for presenters about answering audience questions. And it is something we often cover during our presentation skills training.

But we were recently asked to help an organisation prepare its delegates to ask better questions at the end of presentations and webinars.

And it got us thinking – do people think in advance about the questions they might ask?

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If they don’t, why not?

Because here’s the thing, asking questions in front of a crowd can make us feel vulnerable.

But good questions pose a great opportunity for those asking them.

Of course, asking questions can enhance your understanding of the subject and create a better exchange of ideas. And that, in turn, can help your organisation.

But it is also a great way of raising your profile, progressing your career and showing a drive to improve.

Speakers and audience members make a mental note of those who ask good questions. Often, they want to find out more about them and what they are working on.

And it makes it easier for you to approach the speaker after the event and talk to them in more detail – your well-considered question has already broken the ice.

 

How do you ask something appropriate?

Unless you’re a journalist, a detective or a doctor, you probably haven’t been taught how to ask questions.

But you can learn how to ask better questions. Here’s our guide on how to do it:

 

Purpose

Good questions often come from considering why you need to attend that webinar, presentation or masterclass.

What do you hope to gain from it? What do you want to learn from the speaker?

Are you after factual knowledge, opinions or advice?

Critically thinking about the purpose in advance will help you come up with questions during – or even before - the event.

 

Do your research

We often stress the value of good preparation. It is crucial whether you are speaking to journalists or delivering a presentation.

When you attend a presentation as an audience member, you don’t tend to prepare. Why would you when you are there to learn?

But doing some research will help you ask thought-provoking questions.

Research the speaker and their organisation in advance. What would you want to learn from them?

What else have they recently worked on?

Then start to note down some questions you might ask if they are not covered during the presentation or webinar.

 

Be curious

The importance of curiosity is something we often stress during our masterclasses for members of The Media Team Academy.

And it is an increasingly in-demand soft skill you can develop.

Curiosity is about a willingness to learn more and delve deeper. You want to develop your knowledge and seek new information.

And when you are in that mindset, you naturally ask better questions to develop your understanding and learn from others.

So, be willing to change and challenge your perspective and question why things are the way they are.

 

Be a good listener

To ask better questions, you need to be a good listener.

If you don’t properly pay attention and zone out or focus on what you want to ask, you could ask about something that has already been covered.

Give the presentation or webinar your full attention. Take notes to help you keep track.  

If you are aware of what has already been discussed you won’t ask questions that could make you look silly.

 

And then show you’ve listened

There are some great ways to frame your questions to show the speaker you have been listening to what they’ve said and not spent the time scrolling through your phone.

Phrases like “you mentioned earlier…”, “you showed us that…”, and “I have a question about something you mentioned during the first part of your talk”, show you have been paying attention.

And that is more likely to lead to a better response.

 

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Avoid leading questions

Leading questions assume you already know the answer.

But you should be asking questions that expand your knowledge rather than those that seek to confirm what you already know.

Leading questions can also often be responded to with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – not a great way to tease out more information.

Instead, consider the advice of Dale Carnegie in his self-help book How to win friends and influence people.

“Ask questions the other person will enjoy answering,” he said.

Remember, the Q&A session is not a time for you to show off your knowledge in front of the audience. If you want to do that then maybe attend one of our presentation skills courses and talk to your comms team about getting yourself some speaking engagements.

 

Ask ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions

‘What’ and ‘how’ questions are great ways to gain more information from a speaker.

They invite them to explore their ideas and insights, further expanding your knowledge.

A ‘why’ question, on the other hand, can make someone feel defensive, and they are unlikely to say anything that will improve your knowledge.

 

Keep your questions short

To get a good answer, the presenter will need to fully understand what you are asking.

So, keep your questions short and simple.

Don’t start with a long rambling story that causes the presenter to worry about where you are going and makes the other audience members switch off.

Similarly, avoid multi-part questions. They can suggest you are not clear on what you want to ask, and people might think you are trying to hog the stage.

 

Learn from others

As a journalist, I’m always looking at the questions asked by other reporters and thinking about what I can learn from them.

And the same applies to asking questions in presentations.

Have you heard a great question from someone else during a talk?

Don’t just sit there wishing you had asked it.

Make a note. Why do you think it worked so well? Is it something you could adapt to use in another presentation?

 

Set yourself targets

It can take courage to begin asking questions.

So, set yourself targets and build your confidence.

Maybe start by making sure you ask at least one question at the next team meeting.

Then set yourself the task of asking one during the next presentation you attend.

Ultimately, the more questions you ask, the better you will become at asking them.

 

Want some examples?

The best questions will be the ones you put into your own words.

But to give you more food for thought, here are some ways you could begin your questions.

  • You mentioned earlier that…
  • What would happen if…
  • Do you think it is possible that…
  • Have you considered…
  • I know this wasn’t the main focus of your talk, but I am curious what you think about…
  • What effect has… had on…
  • What do you think the best outcome for… would be?
  • How did you overcome…
  • What do you think the role of… is in…

 

So, when it comes to asking great questions, what’s holding you back?

 

Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 35 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.

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