11 Tips For Asking Questions at Meetings and Conferences

Public speaking is fundamental to my profession. Every week, without fail, I'm in front of an audience. Size and location vary - from a dozen people in a corporate boardroom to several hundred at a convention centre. Regardless of the size or scope or topic, I generally make sure there's time provided for questions from the floor.

Many people are reluctant to ask a question. Call it inhibition or self-consciousness, bottom line; it's good old-fashioned fear - getting in the way. On the other hand, there are folks just waiting to hear the sound of their own voices. Often "specialists" in one-upmanship, they tend to monopolize the time allowed, making everyone uncomfortable.

I've compiled a guide to help increase the comfort zone for everyone, so question periods become effective and useful tools.

Maximizing Q & A Period at Your Next Meeting

  1. Frame your question carefully before raising your hand.
  2. When there's a large group, wait till you have the microphone, before asking your question.
  3. Pause, and wait for the audience to settle down.
  4. Briefly thank the speaker. A simple - "Thank you for taking my question" - is sufficient.
  5. Don't use the speaker's first name unless the atmosphere is casual and all the participants are on equal footing.
  6. Introduce yourself but keep it short; "I'm Bob Jones from IT and my question is....."
  7. Speak up. Your brief introduction is a personal sound check. Modify your voice if you think you can't be heard.
  8. One question only is the rule - stay focused. Weaving multiple questions together isn't fair play.
  9. Same goes for a complicated question requiring a long, drawn out answer. This isn't the right forum for explaining the quantum theory. Keep your question simple.
  10. If you've already asked your question but sense it overstepped boundaries - too complicated, requires an elaborate answer, has caught the speaker off-guard - immediately back off and say; "I think this is a subject for another time. Thank you."
  11. Avoid sensitive questions that could offend either the speaker or the audience. What works in the movies is just plain rude in real life.

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