June 21, 2013

Professional Development

Raise Your Hand: Five Tips for Asking Questions

By: Rick Barton

Asking questions at an event or a seminar can be one of the best ways to stand out from the crowd and gain recognition. A well phrased question can make a good impression on colleagues and supervisors. Yet, contrary to what you were taught in grade school and college, there are such things as bad questions. All too often questioners make several errors which leave others in the room shaking their heads. Whether they’re off topic, too long, too complex or too hostile, a bad question can leave everyone in the room with a negative view of the questioner. Below are a few guidelines and tips to help you make a good impression.

1. Have something to ask. This seems incredibly obvious yet many times people treat question and answer segments as merely a space to foster their own ego. Unless you have a direct question that you want an answer to or you wish for panelists to discuss a certain topic then it is probably best to refrain from speaking. While asking a question can be great for making an impression, that should always be a side effect and never the goal. Make sure that your question does not concern basic information that it was assumed everyone in attendance had. Also make sure you are not asking something that has already been answered previously. Each of these errors makes you appear uninformed or inattentive.

2. Be Clear. Make sure that your question actually has a question in it. Too often people phrase questions as a series of statements and the questioner is asked what their actual question was. Not only does this waste time but it also reflects poorly on the questioner.

3. Be concise and to the point. This is the most common error made when asking a question. If you have something to ask, make sure you can ask it in a few sentences. Nothing loses an audience’s attention faster than the reading of a person’s life story in the form of a question. If you have a question that takes longer to ask or requires a very in-depth response consider asking the speaker or panelist after the event has finished if possible. Not only will you save your colleagues the wait but you’ll also get a more direct response and make a better impression.

4. Be respectful. Even if you disagree with the person you’re asking the question to, refrain from being hostile or rude. Not only does framing your question as an argument reflect poorly on you, it also makes it less likely you’ll receive an adequate answer. Furthermore, being rude while representing an organization, party or ideology reflects poorly on those as a whole.

5. Be mindful of who you’re representing. Many times you may be at an event on behalf of an organization. If this is the case, make sure that the question you ask best represents your organization’s interests. If you’re unsure if the content of your question is contrary to your organization’s beliefs, it is best to not ask the question at all. Also, be sure to introduce yourself clearly with your name and the organization.

As some other tips to keep in mind, run through the question several times in your head in order to make sure it fits all of the above points and you’re comfortable with the wording and phrasing. Make sure that if you speak you are loud enough for everyone to hear, but especially whoever is answering your question. As one final thought, question and answer sessions are usually short so it’s necessary to prepare your question with the above points quickly to have a chance of actually being able to ask it. By keeping these above points in mind and having a little practice, asking questions can become an easy task and help you make a good impression and further your career.

Rick Barton is an intern with America’s Future Foundation and a participant in the Koch Internship Program.