When you hear the phrase “presentation Q&A,” the first visual that comes to mind likely involves a presenter calling on members of the crowd as they raise their hands in anticipation of receiving an answer to an inquiry. The role of questions and the act of questioning during a presentation is much more expansive – serving several purposes and inciting a variety of responses. Think of the questions revealed below as the cobblestones leading people to the cozy atmosphere of your content cottage; sturdy foundations for the swift delivery of your core message.
Here are the 4 questions you should add to your next presentation:
After you read or hear a rhetorical question, your curiosity is piqued. Your brain becomes anxious to discover the answer and get some closure. And if a presenter is really in tune with his or her audience, he or she can readily close the gap and furnish the information wanted by all in attendance. This situation occurs because we are all victim to the Zeigarnik Effect, which explains how our brains will continue to search for a tool capable of tying a loose end. One public figure kept the Zeigarnik Effect top-of-mind when presenting to droves of people. Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, employed rhetorical questions as a public speaking device – incorporating it into his speeches at the 1980 Republic National Convention and at a 1983 gathering of the National Association of Evangelicals. You’re probably thinking, “but doesn’t a rhetorical question imply that you won’t receive a response?” And you are correct. But you are also missing the bigger picture. A rhetorical question puts your audience in the right frame of mind to consume your message.
If you want to maximize the impact of your content, ask multiple rhetorical questions in a row – each one more specific or more monumental than the one before. Alternate your pacing too if you’d like to create an urgent and persuasive tone.
Sprinkling polls into your presentation can help you foster a conversational tone and encourage audience participation in the overall narrative. In the digital realm, studies have shown that our desire to share our opinions motivates our high usage of the “like” button. One Facebook study found that 65 million people on the social media platform press “like” each day. Humans value the ability to voice their thoughts and feel that they are beneficial to others, and many studies have demonstrated this occurrence. An article by the Harvard Business Review detailed 4 different types of advice giving and receiving: discrete advice, counsel, coaching, and mentoring. In a presentation situation, a presenter will probably be dealing with the first 2 – discrete advice and counsel. Perhaps the best use of an engaging question for polling would be for a subject where you are weighing options or trying to figure out how to deal with a circumstance. Hoping to get feedback on the idea behind a new product offering? Form a question and find out from the consumers themselves.
To spur audience engagement, injecting a poll or two into your presentation through LiveSlides, where you can embed polls into your PowerPoint or Keynote deck. Use a poll question to express an interest in the opinions of audience members, in addition to cultivating credibility by relaying the results to support one of your main points.
Sometimes, if delivered precisely, a question can facilitate the visualization of your message for your audience, while also grounding it in a specific time period. In Ron Paul’s final speech to the United States Congress, he asked a series of “What if?” questions to illustrate the current problems with the country’s foreign policies, as well as provide a vision of a world where his fears aren’t addressed – a powerful storytelling structure for a presentation narrative.
From the beginning of his speech, Ron Paul embraces the temporal tactic:
“What if our foreign policy of the last century is deeply-flawed and has not served our national security interests? What if we wake up one day and realize that the terrorist threat is a predictable consequence of our meddling in the affairs of others and has nothing to do with us being free and prosperous?”
He goes on to say “What if?” 18 more times – starting nearly every sentence in the 3:29 video with the phrase. At the conclusion of his speech, Ron Paul dictates the following: “What happens if my concerns are completely unfounded. Nothing. But happens if my concerns are justified and ignored. Nothing good.” And according to the Nieman Lab, readers of news stories appreciate a story focused on problems more if solutions are given as well. The most remarkable aspect of Ron Paul’s presentation was that the questions themselves revealed both the problems and solutions he wanted the audience – Congress – to understand after leaving the lectern.
Consider opening your next presentation with a question that also creates a path for the rest of your content. For example, if you are a small-town barber who landed a job cutting celebrities’, like Adam Levine’s, hair, you might start your presentation with this question: “What if I told you that I never wanted to follow in my dad’s, grandpa’s, and even great-grandpa’s footsteps and become a barber? What if I never went through the traumatic experience that shaped who I am, and how I work with, today?” The temporal question effectively builds suspense and defines the setting – the time and place – for the story.
According to a study by researchers at Washington University, students who asked conceptual questions performed better on tests. On top of enhancing their critical thinking skills, these students also retained the information collected by detail questions. Using questions to direct not only the story and broader plot, but also the thought process of listeners can increase message retention by strengthening connections and invoking curiosity. For example, in James Hansen’s Ted Talk “Why I must speak out about climate change,” he begins with a rhetorical question: “What do I know that would cause me, a reticent, Midwestern scientist, to get myself arrested in front of the White House protesting? And what would you do if you knew what I know?” Throughout the entire talk, James Hansen asks questions – deliberately guiding his audience into remembering the most important points and efficiently moving the story along by asking the questions he believed the audience would have wanted answered. He does this at the 40 second mark when he says, “Did it mean that Venus had an ionosphere? Or was Venus extremely hot? The right answer, confirmed by the Soviet Venera spacecraft, was that Venus was very hot – 900 degrees Fahrenheit…”
Carve a break into your presentation and include a slide or two with some questions to garner audience input. Ensure that the question is relevant to a topic recently discussed and select wording that aligns with the tone of the presentation, while also being best able to stimulate the responses you implore. You can do this by using positive or negative terms within the question construction or by using the passive tense where you might have used the active. When first attempting these strategies, switch up the question format and structure to find out which option works best for your narrative.
There are many opportunities to design a path for your audience within a presentation and to yield responses conducive to creating constructive conversation. And the technology available to make the questioning process absolutely seamless is expanding, with features like Google Slides’ Q&A platform. For more information about the influence of a presentation question, check out these resources:
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