Speaking Up: Fielding Questions from the Audience.

An ocassional series on public speaking
While ‘time’s winged chariot does keep moving on,’ leaving sufficient time at the end of an oral presentation is a great idea. This is no time to cut back on platform time. OK, yes, it’s true, I too have been in audiences where the speaker appears to take too many pains to answer a question from the crowd and I too have wondered ‘Can’t he cut to the chase?’
There is a simple reason for this. It can be easily recognized by putting yourself in the place of the person asking the question. Isn’t it is possible that he or she may be nervous about ‘expressing their ignorance,’ so in most cases, the first response should be to compliment them on their question.
As an example, at a recent presentation, one audience member, I’ll call her Barbara, admitted “She didn’t know what she didn’t know.” Actually this is a very happy state of affairs, for Barbara admitted she knew she had a problem. The first thing the perceptive speaker might have said is ‘I compliment you on your healthy state of self-awareness.’ After getting a (possibly puzzled) response from her, the speaker could go on to ask ‘Do you see where I’m going with this?’
Once I had Barbara’s permission to proceed, I would point out to her that so far as information and the individual is involved, there are four possibilities. 1): Surely there are facts you know and you know you know them. That’s good. You can teach those facts to others. Then there are 2) facts you don’t know and you know you don’t know…in which case, you can become educated. Equip yourself with the appropriate questions to ask. For instance, what training do I need to do this procedure, or who do I call when I need help? See, that’s the level I saw Barbara at, if not when she started her day the day of my presentation, at least as of the ‘now,’ when she asked the question that she did.
For the sake of this illustration, the discussion could stop right there. However, if the audience is prompted to further explore the ‘wonders of cognition,’ there is oh, so much more to this topic. The above two states of knowledge and the individual could be contrasted with the final two other darker sides of awareness… 3) facts you don’t know you know—in that case let us hope that either situations or your relationship with those around you will assist you should difficulties arise. 4)Then there is the worst case of all, the things one doesn’t know they don’t know, called in polite circles intransience or even stubbornness, or if taken to an extreme foolishness or stupidity.

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