Ask Questions – Get More than Answers!

Dr. Joseph Barber

Here are 5 good reasons to ask a question at the next workshop, speaker presentation, or panel discussion you attend (especially those put on by Career Services!).

1) Pay attention – you might just learn something!
If you set a goal for yourself to ask a good question in every presentation you attend, then you will find that you’ll be paying much more attention to the content of these presentations. After all, it is hard to ask an informed question if you have been poodling around your favourite social media website for most of the time instead of listening.

2) Practice your pitch
Asking a question in a room full of people is a great way of practicing your own public speaking skills, because you need to be able to formulate a clear and concise question, stand up confidently, project your voice, and speak in a context-appropriate tone (i.e., not too aggressively, defensively, or timidly). If you get butterflies in your stomach at the thought of any public speaking activity, then start off with questions. Once you have conquered your fear of the 20-second question, it won’t be long before you are more comfortable with doing a 30-minute presentation yourself!

3) Networking
Don’t forget, when you do stand up in a crowded room full of people to ask your question, you have the potential to supercharge your networking efforts. Let’s say you are at a conference, you could be surrounded by people in similar fields who might be interested in connecting with you in some way if only they knew who you were. Well, do the following, and you can increase the chances that important people will come to know who you are: a) stand up when you ask your questions – people need to see you to remember you; b) introduce yourself by clearly stating your name and affiliation (“I’m Joseph Barber, Associate Director at the University of Pennsylvania, I have a question about…”); c) speak clearly enough so that people can actually hear your question – or wait for the microphone to be passed to you if your are in a room where there are microphones being passed around. The 20-50 people who hear you now know who you are and where you are from. That is progress when it comes to networking!

4) Even more networking
Having been an active participant in the discussion by asking a question, it now becomes easier for you to network with the speaker. You will have a good excuse keep the conversation going after the presentation. For example: “Hi, I was the person who asked the question about X. Thanks for your answer, it really helped me understand the issue more clearly – I do have one more question….”. You have made a connection by asking the question, and can build on this to further develop your relationship with the speaker.

5) Answers!
Don’t overlook the most obvious reason to ask questions – to get answers! These answers might help you to be more successful in your work, your career exploration, or your job applications.

So…, challenge yourself to ask a question whenever you attend a presentation, and you will find that there are many benefits beyond just the answers you get.

Author: Joseph

Joseph Barber is a Senior Associate Director at Career Services serving graduate students and postdocs. He has a PhD in animal behaviour and animal welfare, and continues to teach these subjects as an adjunct professor at Hunter College (CUNY).

1 thought on “Ask Questions – Get More than Answers!”

  1. Very informative post. I have a strong wish to be good public speaker but I am always scared to speak out or ask questions in a room full of people and I always get butterflies in your stomach. May be it’s because of my shyness. I will definitely going apply what I have learned here today. Thank you very much for the great advises.

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