We find questions and answers fascinating and entertaining – politicians, reporters, celebrities and entrepreneurs are often successful based on their questioning skills – asking the right questions at the right time and also answering (or not) appropriately.
Although questions are usually verbal in nature, they can also be non-verbal. Raising of the eyebrows could, for example, be asking, “Are you sure?” facial expressions can ask all sorts of subtle questions at different times and in different contexts.
Being an effective presenter has a lot to do with how questions are asked. Once the purpose of the question has been established you should ask yourself a number of questions:
- What type of question should be asked.
- Is the question appropriate to the person/group?
- Is this the right time to ask the question?
- How do I expect the respondent will reply?
When actually asking questions – especially in more formal settings some of the mechanics to take into account include:
Although the following list is not exhaustive it outlines the main reasons questions are asked in common situations.
- To Obtain Information:
The primary function of a question is to gain information – ‘What time is it?’
- To help maintain control of a conversation
While you are asking questions you are in control of the conversation, assertive people are more likely to take control of conversations attempting to gain the information they need through questioning.
- Express an interest in the other person
Questioning allows us to find out more about the respondent, this can be useful when attempting to build rapport and show empathy or to simply get to know the other person better.
- To clarify a point
Questions are commonly used in communication to clarify something that the speaker has said. Questions used as clarification are essential in reducing misunderstanding and therefore more effective communication.
- To explore the personality and or difficulties the other person may have
Questions are used to explore the feelings, beliefs, opinions, ideas and attitudes of the person being questioned. They can also be used to better understand problems that another person maybe experiencing – like in the example of a doctor trying to diagnose a patient.
- To test knowledge
Questions are used in all sorts of quiz, test and exam situations to ascertain the knowledge of the respondent. ‘What is the capital of France?’ for example.
- To encourage further thought
Questions may be used to encourage people think about something more deeply. Questions can be worded in such a way as to get the person to think about a topic in a new way. ‘Why do you think Paris is the capital of France?”
- In group situations
Questioning in group situations can be very useful for a number of reasons, to include all members of the group, to encourage more discussion of a point, to keep attention by asking questions without advance warning. These examples can be easily related to a classroom of school children.
Most importantly remember that “It is not over till it’s over, goes the saying. And it is not over till you’ve successfully handled whatever questions may come up during or after your presentation”.