It’s a phrase you’ve heard ten thousand times — from classrooms to meetings to every single presentation you’ve ever sat through. No matter the content, the venue, the speaker or the crowd every presentation ends the same:
And more often than not what the poor presenter gets back is blank stares.
And you know what? That’s not because the room is disengaged. And, sorry teachers — it’s not because you nailed it. The audience is silent because ‘any questions?’ passes through the brain like sand through a loose fist. In fact I’ve heard that phrase so many times that my head starts swinging from left to right before the question is even finished.
If you want the audience to ask questions it’s time to change how you ask the question. I think we should take a page from Raghu Betina’s book (a Starter League web dev instructor) and ask: ‘What’s fuzzy about this?’. (Check out Rahgu on the TEDx stage preaching the gospel of coding)
The first time Raghu asked that question it stuck in my brain like chewed bubblegum on a shoe sole. And you know what? I immediately started scanning the material for ‘fuzzy spots’. It stuck because it’s a novel way of asking for questions, but it engaged me because it’s a brilliant way to ask for them. You see, the truth is a lot of times I don’t have a question. That requires me to identify something in the material I’m confused about, then figure out what’s confusing about it and then articulate that into a complete sentence that ends with a question mark. That’s hard to do with new material!
By contrast the question, ‘what’s fuzzy about this?’ is easy to answer. It also starts a conversation that leads to ‘what’s fuzzy about it?’ and eventually it leads to the answer. Throughout the conversation I can fumble my way through it with nods, pointing and phrases like ‘that’, ‘no, THAT’ and ‘uh-huh’. That’s easy to do and it leads to better understanding and more engagement, which has made my learning experience a lot fuller.
In the end this is about more than my experience in one class. Communicating effectively is hard to do, but simple tweaks in the way we ask something can lead us somewhere great. If you feel like you’re talking to a wall or you’re sick of blanks stares (in person or online) think about the way you’re communicating. Think about what you’re asking for. Maybe your audience doesn’t have any questions, but that doesn’t mean they have nothing to say.