From the Big Think Blog – How to Ask a Good Question at a Public Event

1. Before you ask a question, make sure it’s a question.

Do you want to share some idea you think is important or do you actually have a question for the speaker? A question is something that would be written with a question mark at the end and causes your voice to go up. If your voice doesn’t go up at the end of it it’s not a question. Repeat the words you want to say to yourself before you stand up and get in line for the mic — if your voice doesn’t go up at the end of them you do not have a question in mind; please sit back down. Did your inner voice go up? Good, you have a question — please proceed to step 2.

2. You have a question. But is it relevant to ask it now?

It’s great that you actually have a question to ask. That separates you from about half the people standing in front of you in line waiting for their turn at the mic. Fortunately, you now have some time to determine if this is the right time and place to ask it. Some things to take into consideration: Is this question relevant to the themes discussed at today’s event? In particular, is it essential to ask this question of this particular speaker, or is it just something you’ve been wondering about for a while? The best questions are formulated specifically for the speaker while remaining interesting to others in attendance. Ask yourself, is this question something you think other audience members would like to hear the answer to? If you do not believe that the question is particularly related to the topics covered in today’s talk and you’re not sure if other people in the audience would be interested to hear it, it’s probably best to err on the side of caution and sit back down. If after consideration you strongly believe that the question is directly relevant to today’s subject matter and that many others in the audience would be interested to hear the speaker’s response, move on to step 3.

3. You’re close to the mic. Now why do you want to ask this question?

You have an actual question that is relevant to the themes of today’s event and which you believe will be interesting to others. You are very close to asking something meaningful. Now it’s time to examine your own intentions in asking this question: Do you want to lead the speaker towards a certain answer? Put her on the spot? Show her that you disagree with something she said? And how does your intention towards the speaker relate to your larger intention towards the others in attendance? Do you want to look like you’re smarter than the speaker? Or do you want to clarify something for everyone in the room? Intention is the key to phrasing the question in the most beneficial way possible. When you know your intentions the appropriate question will become clear as well as the best way to phrase it. Do you know your intentions? If you still don’t know what you intend in asking this question it’s probably best to invent an excuse to leave the line now. If your intention in asking the question is clear — and the question itself is becoming clearer — stay in line and move on to step 4.

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