Any Questions?

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At the end of a presentation, there's usually the question: Any questions? And more often than not, it's followed by - awkward silence.

Now, that doesn't mean that the audience doesn't have any questions. For some reason, people just seem to need a moment to muster up the courage to actually ask a question. So if you're a speaker and you encounter said silence - what can you do? Here's a little trick I learned at a recent conference:

What you should not do when nobody asks a question is to assume that there aren't in fact any questions and just leave the podium. Waiting a few more seconds is awkward, both for the speaker and for the audience. So what the speaker can do is to take the initiative - and ask the audience a question.

What should you ask? Something simple, a raise of hands-type question. You've just been talking to your audience for an hour or so about something. You told them about a new product or service or you want them to change something in their life like, say, eat more vegetables. In that case, a question you could ask would go something like: "Okay, so let me ask you a question: Who here is going to eat more vegetables from now on?" (and raise your own hand to demonstrate what you expect them to do if they plan on doing that).

You can then make a quick comment on the result ("Oh, I see I need to work harder to convince the rest of you as well") - and then, after a short pause, ask again for questions. Chances are that you'll get several people to raise their hands now.

And if it doesn't work? Well, you can try another question. But if that doesn't help, you can safely assume that there probably aren't any questions (at least not the sort that people like to ask in public - expect people to come to you in person after your talk). You may want to repeat a key idea from your talk again, but then simply thank the audience for their attention and leave it at that.

To be clear: This isn't a new trick at all. In fact, I've often seen speakers do this before but only realized what's going on here at a conference last weekend. Ironically, it was after a less than stellar presentation by a speaker who's a well-known expert in his field. At the end of the presentation, the audience looked like all they wanted to do was to leave the room as fast as possible. But after asking them some quick questions, suddenly the questions from the audience came flowing in.

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