When I tell people that they need to leave as much as half of their time for Q&A, I get some worried looks.

Inevitably, one of those worried listeners will say, “But what if no one asks questions?”

That’s not usually a problem if you understand “Joey’s Law of Audience Behavior.”

That law states “Audiences typically behave the way they think they’re supposed to behave.”

If you understand that principle, you’ll never have to worry about not getting any questions.

Let me explain.

Learning from Magic Shows for My Kids

I hit on the law when I started doing magic shows for my kids. Every time one of my three kids turned four, I would perform a magic show at their birthday party.

Doing magic shows for four-year-olds is interesting. These kids have limited experience with live entertainment. They’ve watched lots of television and spent a lot of time looking at a computer screen. But they’ve rarely interacted with a live entertainer. So they don’t understand the idea of showing appreciation with applause.

So when I would finish a trick, they would stare at me like I was a performer on television. No applause. Just blank looks. It was disconcerting. I mean, I wasn’t that bad!

But then I realized that no one had ever taught them that they should applaud live entertainment. So I told them what to do. I said, “When I finish a trick, if you like it, you should applaud. Let’s practice.” And we would all clap really loud.

They started applauding after they understood the concept.

The point is that these kids didn’t applaud because they didn’t know they were supposed to applaud. No one had ever told them to applaud.

Similarly, one of the main reasons that people don’t ask questions in presentations is that they usually don’t know that they’re supposed to ask questions.

Why? Because speakers discourage questions!

We say things like, “I’ve left some time at the end for questions.” Or “I’m going to get to that soon, so hold onto that question.”

Or we overstuff our presentations with too much information leaving virtually no time for questions. We just don’t sound particularly welcoming of questions.

So What Must we Do to Encourage Questions?

Consistent with “Joey’s Law of Audience Behavior,” the most important thing we can do to get more questions is to ask for the questions.

I always tell my audiences early on, “I’ve left a lot of time for questions. I want them. I want you to ask aggressive questions. I want you to try and stump me. I want you to argue with me! In fact, the more questions you ask, the happier I’ll be and the better the presentation will be.”

And then I stop repeatedly and ask for questions. My experience is that people will ask questions if you seriously want them to do it. Here are a few tricks to spur more questions:

  • Ask for Questions and then Wait. Too often people will say, “Any questions?” and then move on quickly. I prefer to let the silence fill the room. Let the audience know that you’re serious and that you’re not afraid of the crickets.
  • Ask the Audience a Question. “So tell me, what do you see as the biggest issue here?” Or “John, you look like you disagree with me.” Or “Sarah, yesterday you said that the key issue was growth. Does this approach make sense?” Prod the audience. Poke the hornet’s nest. Make them respond.
  • Act Happy Whenever You Get a Question: If you look at someone and smile as they ask the question, you’re sending a message to everyone that questions are welcomed. If you look at someone’s raised hand with disdain and say, “Yeah, what do you want?” you send a far different message.

The more you ask for questions, the more questions you’ll get.

Joey Asher

Joey AsherJoey Asher has worked with thousands of business people helping them learn how to communicate in a way that connects with clients. His new book 15 Minutes Including Q&A: a Plan to Save the World from Lousy Presentations” is available now. He is also the author three previous books including “How to Win a Pitch: The Five Fundamentals That Will Distinguish You from the Competition”, “Selling and Communication Skills for Lawyers” and “Even A Geek Can Speak.”