How to Ask Questions That Elicit a Response From Your Audience
like Tony Robbins does
Tony Robbins is not paid for being a motivational speaker only because he was born to speak, he has natural talent, or he is saying something new. He may have a natural talent for speaking but without practicing the techniques used to appeal his audience, he would not be successful. He could have all the natural talent in the world but without good preparation before he speaks, his events would fall flat. Most of the time, he tells his audience things they already know, but overall, his delivery and the way that he makes the audience feel is what makes him so popular. He makes them feel like they are having a conversation. This is not just a natural talent that he has, but a skill that he has learned: how to effectively interact with his audience. This skill has helped him refine his craft of speaking through building a connection to his audience.
Many speakers might marvel at the way he can ask a question and get a useful and audible response from his audience. Today while listening one of his clips on The Quote of the Day Show, Tony talked about what it means to be wealthy, and I was very impressed with how much his audience verbally responded to his questions. Eliciting audience response is not easy nor does it happen randomly. It is a skill that Tony has learned, and we can, too.
Has there been any time when you have asked a question to an audience that you desired a response from and the person or audience assumed that it was a rhetorical question and did not respond? Why do you think that might have happened?
Four things to think about when planning ways to interact with an audience:
- What is the purpose of your desired interaction?
- Are you trying to check whether the audience is engaged, check for understanding or are you ready to move on to a new subject?
Tony makes statements like, “All those who want wealth, say ‘I’.” Then they respond. This is a strategy that he uses to ensure that the audience is still with him and they feel like have moved from being spoken to to being a part of the conversation. It could also be a way to keep the speaker on track, motivated, and moving forward.
Or You could be looking around, seeing glassy eyes and feeling like you are losing their attention. This is the perfect opportunity to say something like, “Who’s with me?” Note: You can use this to pump them up if you repeat it until you have a loud response.
- Are you trying to get them to make a personal connection so that it gives them the feeling of a deeper connection to you or the topic?
When an audience is given time to think about how the topic applies to their own lives, it makes them feel like they have had an interaction with you. It makes them feel like you have listened to their part of the story. Do not be afraid of the pregnant pause that Lisa Nichols talks about. It is an effective tool to use to connect to your audience.
You could do this by asking a rhetorical question. It could sound like, “Who has ever felt like this before?” Or “Think about a time when you have felt this way.” If at all possible, let them have 5 minutes to tell their story out loud to their neighbor in a group context. If audience members are allowed to tell their story, they will buy into yours much more effectively.
- Only ask a question that you already know the answer to.
As a speaker, you never want to be too surprised at what the audience says or thinks. The speaker should be at least one step ahead of the audience. Make sure you ask a question that you already have an idea of what the audience might say or think. If you are not sure what the answer might be, then take some time to ask a few trusted people to tell you what they would say or think. If you ask at least 5 people, the audience member’s answers will most likely not be far from it.
Even if you have asked them to think of a story where they have experienced a similar event, already have a hypothetical story in mind of what they could say. You want to know what is possible for them to think to make sure that the question is relevant to your topic.
I have been in classes where the professor has asked the students to discuss a question, but our responses were lead us in a different direction from what he expected us to say. We did not answer the question the way he wanted. This is not the fault of the students. The teacher must word or clarify the question to get students to answer the way they want in order to achieve the desired thinking they expect.
The teacher/speaker is the one responsible for creating a question that leads into the point being made. If the question is not clear or misinterpreted, the audience will be confused and lose confidence in the speaker.
- Train your audience to respond
Just because you ask a good question, doesn’t mean that the audience will know that you are expecting them to audibly respond. We must train our audience to respond the way that we want them to.
Use non-verbal cues: pausing, gestures, and repetition.
Tony pauses after he asks questions that he wants a response to. As speakers, we sometimes fear silence. We think, “If there is silence, then I will bore them, or they will have time to think about what I’m doing wrong.” This negative thinking is not true. Pausing within a speech actually does the opposite effect. When there is surprising silence within a speech it gives the audience time to think about what you have said, which should be exactly what you want them to do. It also can surprise them and make them refocus their attention on you, as stated above.
If you are uncomfortable with silence, then you could just say what you want and know that they will say and gesture them to say it with your hands. Imagine with me, you asked, like Tony Robbins did, Do people normally spend more money than they make? An untrained audience might be silent for a second, but a trained speaker might gesture that you want them to repeat you, “Yes!” After doing this with them once or twice, they should get the idea and respond more quickly. Finally, repeating the same activity throughout your speech will help them to get the flow of what you are expecting.
- Be Self-Reflective
Each time we speak or teach, we must take time to reflect on the interaction we had and how we can do it more effectively next time. The following are a list of questions that we can ask ourselves.
- Did I use audience interaction for the benefit of the audience’s understanding and keeping them engaged? Did it work? What are some things I can change next time.
- Were the questions worded in a way that they knew what to answer? Was there any confusion on their part or on mine? Was anyone surprised about anything? What can I do to fix it?
- Did the audience pick up our cues? How can we streamline audience interaction to get a more desired effect next time?
- Was this question necessary? How can I make a question that is more impactful or interesting? Can I expand on the interaction to provide a more meaningful interaction?