Your speech is set and you are ready to go.
You walk up on stage and stand in front of the mic. The MC introduces you. Clapping ensues and fades away.
Now, the stage is yours.
What should you start with?
Do you begin with a cool fact? Should you introduce yourself formally, what you do and what you will talk about?
Or, do you begin with a question?
There are some speakers who prefer to be commanders. They start with powerful statements and get you right into the middle of it. Through facts, they justify their relevance throughout the speech with conviction. They come to the stage to preach, state their thoughts and encourage the audience to only listen.
Others can be more friendly: sharing a story from their personal life to allow the audience to relate to them better. In both of these cases, where would questions fit?
A number of speeches have questions in them. This can range from thought-provoking questions to ‘What do you think?’ questions. Their purpose differs depending on how personal the question is, and the significance of said question to the audience.
How effective are these questions though? Should we leave them out of a speech? I am with the motion that they are very important, and here are a few reasons why:
Questions immerse the audience.
What do most stories start with? A problem. An issue. A growing concern.
We address it, analyze it, and make solutions for it: The Hero’s Journey.
If you have a story to tell, questions are one of the ways people can ease into it.
Immersion is very important in understanding. Without it, we would not be able to comprehend other people’s perspectives. Just like an engaging fiction/non-fiction book, audiences must be immersed to follow the journey. In the case of public speaking, people would not listen without immersion.
This is where questions come into play: your questions can guide the audience in order to immerse them. Asking them something after a certain point gives them time to address what was mentioned. Coming in with a controversial question incites feelings and potential discussion.
Without questions to immerse in your speech, you would be reading from a textbook.
As pace is an important factor of immersion as well, questions allow you to ‘pause’ your speech for greater effect.
- Short, powerful questions and their shock factor may further pull the audience.
- Long, deep questions tell the audience to address the topic at hand from a different perspective.
Your speech needs to be like a rollercoaster. It must not be monotone, otherwise, people may tune out. This is one way to help with that: people immerse themselves naturally when answering your questions in their minds.
What should you ask though?
Questions make you relatable.
Asking questions you have asked yourself, allow people to peek into your mind.
People listen better to those who are relatable in nature. In the case of public speaking, you may not personally know the entirety of your audience of 1000. Having only 45 minutes to be yourself on stage can be difficult for some speakers; some may have trouble voicing out their intended message in public. This is when relatability comes into play.
You can allow people to understand you better by asking them the same questions you’ve had in your mind when presenting this topic.
The questions can be of different types:
- ‘What should I do next?’ (When talking about struggle in your startup)
- ‘Should I take the risk?’ (Addressing a decision you had to make)
- ‘I don’t understand this. Can you elaborate?’ (If you are reenacting a conversation in your story, you can ask that same question to the audience as well)
- ‘How would this tech benefit our cause?’ (Setting yourself as the expert in this field, you can share how you’ve addressed a new technology/development)
You can ask these questions out loud, or have them on your slide. The purpose of this, is to expose your perspective for others to understand.
Your questions are part of your journey – sharing that allows others to live that same journey.
By opening the question up to the public, you are inviting other people to relate to your struggles and thought process. People relate better to struggles, failures and the lessons learned: questions are one way to deliver that.
Questions make you think.
Thinking is interaction. Speeches are powerful because they provoke us to think.
If you introduce rhetorical questions, or questions that have clear agreements/disagreements, you are encouraging interaction with your audience.
The audience is the lifeblood of the public speaker. Without an audience, no one would hear what they have to say. Your audience has to be alive to listen to you, and getting them to think is one of the ways to validate that.
Ask questions. Make your audience think. Create an impact through your statements.
If you have your audience thinking about what you’ve said, you have succeeded in making them listen to you. Valuable questions that have answers to them is one way of getting people to listen.
The speech doesn’t end off stage.
The right questions stay for a long time.
The quality of a question is correlated with how long it stays in one’s mind:
- It can be from a critical discussion on macro-level topics.
- It can be a question that divides the audience: a motion that has ‘for’ and ‘against’ connected to it.
- It could be a question that is so relatable, the audience understands the experience entirely. They may have experienced it themselves: a struggle perhaps.
As more and more people become involved in the question at hand, as someone in the room you could benefit from the discussion. Your peers may hold different answers, and the public speaker may mention something unexpected. These all amount to different kinds of interaction, which is good in our eyes.
All of this breathes life into the question. It, therefore, sticks into one’s mind for a long time. As a result of your effective public speaking skills, you have introduced content that the audience is ‘listening’ to even after you step off the stage. Good job!
This helps with: accountability, trust, expertise and intellectual engagement.
If you are capable of doing all this, the audience, in turn, will take you more seriously. There is greater accountability from someone who is capable of looking at a topic from a Socratic point of view, ask the right questions and puts effort into answering them.
There would be nothing but respect for that endeavor in the eyes of the audience, and as a public speaker, this is extremely important.
You want to have a good image: someone whom the people can trust, has expertise in their field and is capable of engaging with the audience intellectually. Questions are one of the ways to do that.
Think of what kind of questions the audience may have. Questions, that you yourself have. Put them into a list, and you have a question framework to start with.