Ask Them

Making Speaking Magical: part 7

When you ask questions you create a safe place for conversation.

Who is the best communicator you’ve encountered? 

Tony Robbins

Sir Ken Robinson (Ted Talk)

Bono (U2)

Is it a motivational speaker? A teacher? An entertainer? A comedian? A pastor? Or something else entirely?

What was it about their communication that makes them stand out so much? 

(Before reading on, come up with two quick answers to that question)

We have looked at a bunch of examples for the Magical Speaking Tricks as we’ve walked along this journey together; but I’ve been waiting to talk about Jesus until this one: ASK THEM.

Asking his audience questions was Jesus' sweet spot, his bread and butter (or should I say, his bread and fish!) - permission to dismiss all further writing after this joke, granted. Time after time the people would come up to Jesus and ask him a question only to have him ponder it, then throw the responsibility back on them to answer. 

Like this one time when a guy comes up to Jesus and says, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Think about that, there is no better question to ask God than this one. This would be like someone walking up to LeBron James saying, “What should I do to shoot the ball well?” I assume LeBron, would jump at the opportunity to teach everything he knows. 

Not Jesus though, he receives the question, and tosses it back at the guy, “What do you think you should do?” or, rather, “What does the law say?” The man then gives his answer and Jesus says, “You have answered correctly.” 

Jesus seemed to find joy and purpose in asking questions so the people could express what they already understood about their lives. 

Are you able to do the same with your audience? 

"Good orators will often pose compelling questions at the beginning of their presentations to get the audience thinking about a subject, switching them from content absorption mode to content consideration mode. These orators make listeners participants in the speech, not observers." - How to Argue like Jesus

Asking questions can change the way your audience feels about you entirely.

Much like involving them, when you ask them questions they will believe they are important to you. However, asking them to answer can be a terrifying step to take as a communicator. If you do it authentically, you will be putting the outcome into the hands of your audience. They could say or do anything at this point and you can’t possibly plan for everything. As soon as you break from your typical communicating and ask your audience what they think about the subject you are giving control to them! Which, of course, is exactly why it is so important as a communicator to embrace this trick.  

As a communicator, what are you doing to invite your audience to participate by asking what they think? 

Here’s five tips to help as you ask powerful questions:

Say “What”

Saying “what” questions rather than “why” is part of the art of Coaching, and is a game-changer with teenagers. 'Why' questions illicit an emotional reaction from the audience, but 'What' questions spark a logical problem-solving reaction. “What do you think made him say what he said?” // “What could have been done differently in this situation?” // “What helped her succeed in this story?”

When you begin your question with 'What', you help the audience respond apart from emotion. 

Repeat and Summarize

In most situations, people are not prepared to interact with a communicator. So if you ask them to respond to you with an answer, be ready to actively listen to their response in order to repeat it back in a clear way. As you are repeating their response, it helps your brain process the information as well as your audience.

Sometimes the person may answer in a way that feels like it has little connection to the question you asked; you can you help that person sound better by summarizing what they might have been trying to say.

Talk Amongst Yourselves

One of the most painful moments for a communicator is throwing a question out to the audience and waiting in terrible silence while nobody moves or says anything.

On the other hand, one of the best feelings is when the energy in the room explodes with people chatting with those around them and laughing together, at your cue. Have some great questions you can ask your audience to respond to with each other. The questions might be overtly connected to your talk or they might be more subtle.

Once, I told a very emotional story about picking dandelions for my mom while she was in the hospital and how dandelions always make me think of her. About a minute after the story, I asked a question to help shift the energy in the room: "Turn to the person next to you and answer this question, what is something that always reminds you of someone else?" Immediately people were sharing with each other, and we felt like we were all in this together. 

The key with these questions is, make them easy to answer.

When your audience is invited to talk to each other they come alive and will build up energy to for what is still to come. 

Give Them Time

Thinking about that terrible silence (mentioned above), you can't always run away from it. As a speaker, you need to be ok with some silence. Currently, I have music on while typing this post; yet, sometimes I need to turn it off so I can concentrate solely on the task at hand without any possible distractions. It’s the same for your audience. They are listening to you, engaging with what you’re saying, and then you ask a question inviting them to respond. It can be difficult for them to shift so quickly without some time to process and create a response.

Now, if you have already been making speaking magical they should be used to participating all along the way and it won’t be a big shift. Give them some time to think about it and don’t be afraid to ask the question in a slightly different way. 

Ask, Tell, Ask

This one’s easy, start with a question, but don’t let them answer. Tell them you just want them to think about it while you tell them a story or move through whatever your next module of communication is. Then come back to the same question at the end, asking for answers and conversation. Not only have you given them time to think about their answers, but you have also filled their mind with the proper context to speak to. 

So, who is the best communicator you’ve encountered? 

What was it about their communication that makes them stand out so much? 

Asking questions is about bringing your audience into the conversation.

If you talk the whole time they’ll only be able to remember whatever extra information they can fit in their short-term memory. But if you allow them to answer tough questions they might just realize they've already figured this out in some way and move forward with confidence.

Our audiences need more of these two things: community & empowerment. 

You, as the communicator, are able to help your audience develop a safe place for conversation (community) while empowering them to see they understand a lot more than they may think.


What do you think? Is there a time you threw some questions out to your audience and it did not go how you expected? (good or bad experience?)