Three tips for directing your audience's response

by Speak Schmeak
1. Be specific.

You want to know how many of your audience members have performed a particular procedure recently. But "recently" is relative. Some people might think "recently" means "in the last two weeks." Some may think you're asking about the last six months.

2. Direct your question with clear words and concepts.

I have a client who wants to know what her audience thinks of when they hear the word "epilepsy." But what she really wants to know is what myths and beliefs they've heard about epilepsy and seizures. She's looking for responses like "frothing at the mouth," and "you have to put something between their teeth" and "they might swallow their tongue."
In order to phrase her question to get the answers she wants, she has to be very specific: "What are some of the popular beliefs about epilepsy and seizures," might be one way to go. She might also use visual words like "What do you picture/imagine/envision when you think about seizures?" This will help the audience recall the images and pictures they have in their minds.

 3. How to Ensure You Get Responses to Non-Rhetorical Questions:
Sometimes a speaker thinks he's asking a question of the audience and hopes for an answer, but doesn't get one. This is frequently due to how the question is phrased. For example, if you say, "How did we get into this situation?" your audience could perceive that as rhetorical, especially if you don't give them enough time to formulate their answers.

A better way to ask might be to say, "What do you think are some of the reasons we've ended up in this situation?" And then pause and stand ready with your flip chart and markers to write down the answers!

A similar kind of question is the one where you ask, "Have you ever experienced this?" or "Have you ever felt this way?" The audience may nod or smile, but if you actually want the question answered, say " How many of you have experienced this?" That way, you get an active response, a show of hands.