Public Speaking

Speaking – Tip 3


Questions – Part 2 – Taking them

Often you’re given a slot – say 45 minutes, with a description like “35 minutes to talk and 10 minutes for Q&A.”  The problem with that description is that it also implies a structure – you speak for 35 minutes and then the audience can ask questions for 10 minutes.

This also connects with one of two common models that speakers set-up – the ‘I’ll take questions at the end’ verses the ‘I’ll take questions at any time’ model.  And most audiences are used to this distinction.  But, I have a problem with the ‘I’ll take questions at the end’ model in that it strongly implies to the audience ‘be quiet and listen while I talk’ – I don’t mind leaving space at the end of a talk to take questions, that might be very appropriate, but to refuse questions while you’re talking I think is a mistake (though there may be a few valid exceptions in formal settings or very large audiences), and in my experience most audiences are pretty good with question asking etiquette.

But hang on… what about the audience member who won’t stop asking questions or asks long winded questions, or those that are irrelevant?  You do need to do something about questions that are detracting from the value of the session – and unless you’ve really messed things up, the audience will be on your side, and thinking the same as you.

With long questions, at some point you may have to interrupt with something like “it sounds like there’s a lot of background to the question, how about we chat afterwards,” or you may be able to perceive what the question is, so do that.  Take your decision based on the reaction of the audience, if the background is enthralling, great, if it’s not, interrupt. 

With someone asking repeated questions, and on the assumption that they are not adding good value to the session, after answering their latest question, you might explicitly ask for questions from elsewhere – answer the question and then, “gosh, you have lots of questions, who else has a question” and eventually, “you clearly have lots of questions, perhaps we can talk afterwards.”

With irrelevant questions, you have to make a judgment or ask, is this a useful question to answer for a large portion of the audience?  Otherwise, “I wasn’t expecting that question, it does take me off topic, is it OK to cover it after the talk?”

Generally, questions can be really beneficial, helping you delivery the most relevant content.  But if they are devaluing the talk for the majority of the audience, they will want you to do something about it, and will support you.  Take comfort and responsibility from that.

In summary, if you’ve built a reasonable relationship or rapport with the audience, then they will want you to deliver a good talk and will support your sensible decisions that help them get the value they were expecting.  Unless there’s a really good reason not to, be willing to take questions at any time.

That’s it for now, if you have questions…

Be remarkable,

Speaking – Tip 2


Questions – Part 1 – Questions are fundamental

Questions is a big topic, more of a chapter than an article.  So this is part 1, and the tip is that questions are fundamental to any talk.

Why?  They help create engagement.  If we are looking for an answer, we are more inclined to stay engaged until we find one – so you want your audience asking you or even more importantly themselves questions, and looking for answers in your talk.

Perhaps this point is just too obvious, but it is easy to forget.  A monolog of information delivered with an unclear reason (a question) is hard going.  When we’re delivering information through a talk, questions are the hooks that we hang the information from.  And as the speaker, we should be proactive in generating the right questions, which may be explicit, but often they’re not.

Storytelling generates implicit questions; in entertainment we’re often left hanging as the book or film changes to a different scene or the closing music of the soap opera kicks in… you want to know what happens, it’s uncomfortable to leave a thread incomplete.  An unanswered question, is a powerful draw.

Even the simplest of jokes "A horse goes into bar, the barman says, ‘why the long face’" is quietly laced with questions.

A talk then, is a planned route from one or more big questions, through a maze of small questions and answers to reach a point of answering a big question(s) – or just to confuse things, cause the listener to answer a big question.

Questions are our most basic, fundamental engagement tool.  What we do as speakers, is package them beautifully.

Be remarkable,

Speaking – Tip 1

Newtons Cradle_s

Your audience will reflect your energy

If you’ve watched the X Factor or any show where the contestants are expected to entertain the audience and be judged on it, you may be familiar with the uncomfortable feeling an obviously nervous contestant causes.  The contestant is uncomfortable and so are you.  Similarly you might be familiar with the opposite feeling where you are drawn in to the entertainment and the sofa commentary halts for just few minutes.

It’s different from liking or not liking a performance – a great singer can sing a song you don’t like – it doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable (well, unless the song itself has it’s own history for you), you just don’t like the song.

Whether this reflection is due to our mirror neurons as discovered by Vittorio Gallese et al, or something entirely different, it is a phenomenon a speaker should appreciate and use.

Simply, when you’re speaking the audience will tend to reflect your energy.  Bring the pace and energy down for something that needs consideration or sympathy, take it up when you want engagement or motivation.

Of course you can read the audience energy too – are they engaged, on the edge of their seat when they should be, and sat back looking thoughtful when you’d like them to be?  If not, are they reflecting you?

It’s not the only consideration, but it is speaking tip number one.  I first heard this tip from Nicholas Bate during one of his Instant MBA workshops – it was one of those ‘of course’ moments for me… thank you Nicholas.

Be remarkable,