6 tips: Asking good questions at meetings, seminars

Marguerite de Leon

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6 tips: Asking good questions at meetings, seminars
There's no such thing as a stupid question, but some are better than others

MANILA, Philippines – Opening the floor to questions can be the boon or bane of any meeting or presentation.

Someone can ask a question that leads to a lively, intriguing discussion, or someone can ask a question that totally deflates the mood.

While there’s no such thing as a stupid question, some really do seem to be much better than others.  

Here are some tips to steer you away from being that guy who asks all the eyeroll-inducing, cringe-worthy questions:

1) Listen the entire time. 

Nothing is more frustrating than hearing someone ask a question whose answer was already discussed earlier. That person was obviously not listening, and probably had that question in mind long before the presentation even began.

Speakers would normally be polite enough to humor you and repeat whatever they’d mentioned earlier, but you’re technically wasting precious time that could’ve been spent on more fruitful discussions. Don’t turn the speaker into a broken record. 

2) Leave your ego at the door. 

The event you’re attending was built around a specific agenda; it’s not an opportunity for you to aggrandize yourself. You’re speaking up to ask a question, not to prefix your question with a lengthy diatribe on who you are, what you’ve achieved, and which famous people you personally know.

This is annoying in and of itself, but chances are, this kind of behavior also leads to the next problem:

3) Just ask the question already. 

Some people just love hearing the sound of their voice. Unfortunately, everyone else probably doesn’t. Besides lengthy speeches about yourself, you should also avoid rambling introductions to the actual question you’ll be asking.

Yes, it helps if you give a little context before asking something. But that doesn’t give you license to use up five whole minutes ranting about whatever peeves you before even asking the question. These events aren’t exactly treasure troves of time, so get to the point as fast as you can. 

4) Don’t try to butter up the speakers or get too personal.

Remarking that you’re a big fan of the speaker and his or her work is fine, but you don’t have to glorify them till kingdom come. Worse than this, though, is getting too personal with your question.

Unless the event was specifically about the speaker’s personal life, it’s just plain bad manners to bring private matters out into the public. 

Here’s a painful example of what not to do, featuring former Singaporean prime minister Lee Kwan Yew and an all-too-eager audience member: 

5) Avoid questions with multiple parts. 

The phrase “This question is actually two parts” can deflate any speaker’s heart. It takes a lot of effort to provide a meaty, satisfactory answer to someone’s question.

It’s doubly hard when you have to keep another question in the back of your mind, and then come back to answer it just as thoroughly. More often than not, multiple-part questions are not answered completely; there are simply too many thoughts to juggle.

Asking such a question is not only indulgent, but can end up watering down whatever the speaker could say. 

6) Ask a question you actually don’t know the answer to. 

A lot of open forum questions have such obvious answers, it’s almost painful to hear them. Instead, think about what you’re going to say. Contribute to the discussion instead of stagnating it.

All in all, don’t take question-asking for granted. Understand that when there’s a limited time for asking questions, these questions better matter. And if you’re just there to toot your own horn, it’s better to just leave that to your blog or your personal social media accounts. 

What other types of question-askers would you rather not encounter? Share your open forum or meeting horror stories in the comments section below! – Rappler.com 


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Marguerite de Leon

Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon heads Rappler’s Life and Style, Entertainment, and Opinion sections. She has been with Rappler since 2013, and also served as its social media producer for six years. She is also a fictionist.