How inquisitive should a speaker be?

This week I gave a speech where I asked a lot of questions – perhaps too many. You see my Toastmaster speech evaluator noted that this approach frustrated him. He said he felt impatient because of the extra time it took and maybe even patronized because he wasn’t able to answer my questions as well others in the room.

This was interesting feedback because asking questions has been an increasing element of my speaking style. I do so, partly because I enjoy interactive presentations instead of “talking head” speeches and partly because I think this facilitatory style engages audience members by drawing out their own knowledge of the subject.

The_Riddler_3However, when a speaker receives contrary feedback, it’s in their best interests to analyze it, learn from it, and incorporate it into their future presentations.

The first question I asked about the feedback was, “Is this a matter of differing operating styles?” Some people may not like my “quiz show” approach. They like listening to the speaker or expert and care not to listen to the expressed knowledge of their fellow audience members. If this is the case, I will have to determine how predominate that style is and adjust accordingly. For example, in this situation, my speech evaluator and at least one other person in a room of 10 people expressed that this inquisitive style was not their preference. If I was thinking, I would have conducted a “show of hands” poll to get a better handle of who thinks what on this. If it was a minority, I might consided the “can’t please everyone” mantra and commenced never minding.

I also wonder if there is a generation effect at play here. I have honed this approach with youth and children audiences thinking they prefer it to a lecture. Do adult audiences have a different reaction to this style? In other words, do they generally prefer a direct lecture?

I also have to resolve preference with what’s good for the audience. The audience may not like my style but if it engages them to think, feel, or do something as a result, then I might consider potential grated edges as inevitable collateral damage.

I also wonder if it is not so much a matter of style as it is a matter of execution. I realized I asked at least 15 different questions in a span of 8 minutes. Perhaps I simply overwhelmed my audience with too many questions and need to take a less rapid fire approach.

Another item to consider is what this approach does to flow and timing. Asking questions in a presentation can create choppiness, often takes longer to deliver, and adds a degree of unpredictability since I have limited control over audience responses. I personally like the opportunity to overcome these challenges; however, it’s not about me, it’s about meeting the needs of my audience members. If my style is not serving the majority of my audience well, then I will need to adjust.

All of that said, I do intend to deliver this material again so I have to come up with some “Do Differentlies.” This is what I came up with so far:

  1. Ask fewer questions. I will offer more direct information, interwoven with fewer questions.
  2. Ask more rhetorical questions. If I give a slight pause after a question then answer it myself, it might resolve some of the “on the spot” anxiety.
  3. Phrase questions so they can be answered with a show of hands. These questions are easier to answer and can be used to build trust in the beginning of a speech
  4. Continue gracious responses to “wrong” answers. I think I do this well. I’ve always appreciated a “Great response John! That answer is quite common; although, I was looking for something else.” instead of “No, that’s not right.”
  5. Use visual clues or key words to prompt responses. This would make my questions easier to answer and add an element of visual thinking. If they know I will be gentle with them, they will be more likely to respond again.
  6. Offer multiple choice answers. I don’t know what this would look like – I’ll have to experiment.
  7. Offer the main points then ask for follow-up questions. For example, instead of asking for the #1 tool of the industrial revolution, I would just offer it then ask the audience why it is the #1 tool or if they agree that it is.

Wow! A simple bit of great feedback opened up a bunch of thinking and potential tweaks to my speech. Let me know what you think on this and your preference as an audience member – direct or interactive presenations. Also, I would love your feedback on my “Do Differentlies” or some recommendations of your own.
Comment below, tweet me @gsjonuk, or email me at


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