diary Teaching

Asking Questions At Presentations (Part 1)3 min read

A Habit to Cultivate

“You should aim to always ask at least one question after a presentation.”

This was word by word the answer provided by a colleague to my interrogation years ago regarding her constant and pertinent questioning after each presentation. One of the many exceptional traits of this colleague was her habit to ask questions and how often these would invite the presenter to share addition insights that the presentation didn’t cover.

This struck me for two reasons. First, my inner self remains deeply rooted on the shy introvert side, often preventing me from interacting directly more with other people. Second, she managed to often ask pertinent questions, even when I couldn’t think of anything to ask due to either purely having misunderstood or already feeling satieted by the presentation.

When I reached out to her, she started explaining she used to feel similar but decided fairly early on in her education to challenge herself to ask at least one question, even if it was an obvious one. Like any regular practices (e.g. this writing challenge), she eventually developed a habit and accompanying skill of more easily coming up with more meaningful questions. This was one of these revealing moments to me and a new habit formed on that day.

Getting more from Presentations

Exercising this habit for some years now, benefits are undeniable.

First, it forces us – the audience – to be more attentive to the presentation. If we know we are going to ask something, we better try to gather materials ask about. This means that our focus is sharper and often our understanding of the presentation is deeper. This is contrasted to the opposite situation where we don’t ask necessarily ask questions, often leading to a mindset locked in the passive audience mode (think watching TV) and only the shallow and easy-to-grab message reaches our mind from the presentation we’ve just attended. This shift from passive to active listener thus already constitutes a simple yet effective mind trick.

Second, performing a presentation implies making editing choices and not all the pieces of information will be showed in an equal way – let alone included at all – due to time and format constraints of the presentation. This means that, as the audience, we are presented with a partial picture of what the full message should be. Questions bring an opportunity to piece together these gaps and often go beyond the initial delivery by the presenter.

Third, asking sensible questions supports your status as an intelligent person in the audience. Eventually, it could serve as an effective icebreakers either with the presenter or a member of the audience, with whom collaborations or further knowledge could be exchanged.

All these feel like a win-win, if done properly.

Closing Words

This post constitutes a first attempt at creating this guide on ‘how to ask questions at a presentation’. I will definitely come back to this topic as experience comes back with more ideas.

Thank you for reading. See you tomorrow.

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