Public Speaking Questions Help
Introduction to Public Speaking Questions
The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything. Except what is worth knowing.
—Oscar Wilde, 1854–1900
Your speech is actually not completed until you have answered your audience's questions. In this lesson, we will consider an effective question-and-answer session.
Well, you've done it—you've finally delivered your speech, and it's gone off without a hitch. You presented some stunning visual aids, made the audience laugh several times, made them stop and think seriously about your topic, and did it all with pizzazz. You conclude your thoughts with a compelling call to action, gather your notes, turn to leave the stage—and somebody raises a hand at the rear of the audience with a question. Uh oh…. You didn't rehearse for that!
The fact is, however, that no speech is concluded until the audience's questions are addressed. Yet, fielding questions is actually a good exercise for any speaker for a number of reasons. First, it forces the speaker to think through his or her material more fully, trying to anticipate what the audience might ask. Second, it gives the speaker some valuable practice with impromptu speaking, since there is no way you can script your answer to an unknown question.
Prepare in Advance
Okay, I just said you can't do this—but to some extent you can. That is, you don't know in advance what questions might be asked, but you can still make an educated guess. Ask yourself what questions you would ask if you heard someone give your speech, and then prepare to answer those questions.
When you rehearsed in front of your live audience, you asked them to hit you with some tough questions at the end of your speech (at least, you should have!). Use those sample questions as springboards to brainstorm what questions you might be asked when you give your speech, and then figure out what your answer would be.
Anticipating questions is a vital part of speechmaking. In fact, it's helpful to ask yourself from start to finish what questions you might have to face, since that can also help you to craft a more comprehensive speech. Knowing the questions in advance is like getting your hands on a final exam before it's given: You can spend time before the exam looking up the right answers, and then ace it when it's given! This might be called cheating when it comes to schoolwork, but when it comes to public speaking, it's called being prepared.
Control the Questions
You might think you have no control over what questions your audience asks, but that's not entirely true. You are the speaker, after all, which means that you are in charge, at least in some measure. You cannot control what the audience is thinking, but you can control the environment in which they ask questions.
For starters, reserve questions for the end of your speech. This is usually done by default, since most audiences understand this principle as basic etiquette. But you might have someone raise a hand while you're speaking, so don't be caught off guard. If that happens, pause and call upon the person with the question—it's possible that he or she simply can't hear you and wants you to speak louder. If the person asks a question about your topic, politely request that the audience hold their questions for the end, assuring that person that you will begin your question and answer time with him or her.
Sometimes you might be faced with a person who dominates the question time: The moment you answer one question, the person has another. You can control this situation as well simply by looking for others who have questions. Say, "That's another excellent question—I'll come back to it in a moment. But first, were there other questions?"
You can even control the atmosphere during the question time. Perhaps you've given a persuasive speech on a controversial topic, and some people in the audience hold strong opinions in a different direction. You might find yourself faced with a hostile attitude from someone in the audience, and you don't want to let that become the general atmosphere in the room.
You can defuse that hostility first and foremost by not returning it! Rephrase a question that is worded in an accusatory manner; thank an angry questioner for having the honesty to express those views; find a point of agreement, such as saying that you share the questioner's frustration on the topic and that you're both working toward the same goal of finding a solution. In short, you can control hostility by replying to it with respect and patience.
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