I watch a lot of speakers use rhetorical questions to get the audience’s feedback, make them think, or try to engage them. I probably do it more than anyone I’ve ever watched. But it’s not easy to do well.

The hardest part about asking questions is..



And waiting some more.

Today I watched a speaker pause about two-thirds of the way through his presentation and give an understanding query that essentially intoned that there might be questions and he’d answer any right then.  And he waited less than two seconds for an answer and said, “Well, good.  Guess it’s all clear then.

Last month I was on a web conference with a nationally known presenter.  She teaches other people how to teach and lead.  Since I consider web conferencing to be THE HARDEST medium for good presenting, I was curious how she would do.  Overall, she was quite engaging.  The she got to an ending point and brought up the “interactive review.”  The way it worked was that “we will open up the phone lines so that you can answer these summary points as I ask them.”  She hit whatever button did that.  We heard the beep.  She asked the first review question.  No one answered.  She answered it for us.  BUT SHE WAITED LESS THAN A SECOND.  And guess how many of her other six questions were answered by the audience.  Somehow I expect you know.  Zipp-o.  Nil.  Nada.  Nary a one.  Nobody.  So much for “interactive” reviews.

If you’re going to ask a question, you’ve got to learn to wait for an answer.  And not speaking may be the hardest speaking skill of all to learn.

It takes me a second or two to hear the answer.  It takes me another second or two to formulate an answer.  It takes one second to decide if I’m going to answer, and another second to actually figure out how to phrase the answer.  Then, if there are any distractions, I have to wait to find the moment to answer, and then finally to speak.  Meanwhile, you the speaker have moved on with a “GREAT!” and I don’t think it’s so great.

Ask lots of questions.  Wait a LONG time for the answers.

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