Love ‘em or hate ‘em, educational presentations are inescapable in the legal world. Whether to keep up with new developments in the field, network or simply fulfill a continuing ed requirement, we attend a lot of presentations. If you want to get more value from all those CLEs, lunch-and-learns, webinars and conferences, I have a simple recommendation: start asking questions. Here are six reasons to ask a question from the audience.
1. Nothing says “thank you” like a good question.
Nobody likes dead air during Q&A. Experienced speakers will have a question or two ready to fill the silence, but actual audience questions are much preferred. Not sure what to ask? You can’t go wrong following up on a key point from the talk. Leading with “You spoke about [topic],” here are a few surefire options:
- Could you say a little more about that?
- Do you think that trend will continue?
- If [variation on scenario], what impact would it have?
- What are some resources to learn more about this?
2. You want to network with the speaker.
On one hand, attending a presentation is a prime opportunity to connect with the presenter. On the other hand, it’s hard to walk up to someone you don’t know, or even someone you’ve met before but never really talked to, and strike up a conversation out of the blue. Questions are ideal ice breakers. For networking the best strategy is to save your question for one-on-one interaction after the talk. If it turns out that there’s no opportunity for conversation, then repurpose your question as a LinkedIn message.
3. Public speaking makes you nervous.
Asking a question is a great public speaking opportunity for beginners, especially at an in-person event. It’s a) over quickly; b) you’re literally sitting down in a crowd; c) the context is familiar and non-threatening; and d) when you’re done talking, the audience’s attention immediately shifts to listening to the answer. I can personally vouch for this tip. My first several years in practice I had crippling anxiety about public speaking. Asking questions was a baby step on the road to standing behind the podium.
4. You’d like to level up your learning.
Listening with a questioning mindset helps you learn more. This benefit applies even when you don’t actually end up asking a question. First, it helps you focus (I confess to being easily distracted during webinars). Second, making notes, written or mental, about key points is a memory aid. Third, engaging with the presentation for the purpose of identifying good topics for questions is a form of active learning. Active learning builds critical thinking skills and helps you gain a deeper understanding of the material.
5. Thought leadership is one of your professional development goals.
You can get surprising thought leadership mileage out of asking questions. Like public speaking, the short, structured format is suited to beginners. Busy professionals at all career stages will appreciate that no added investment of time is required – after all, you’re already there. Questions are particularly effective for building your reputation within membership-based groups such as an ACEDS chapter or bar association where you tend to run into the same people at different events.
6. Because you have a question.
The sixth reason to raise your hand is, well, because you have a question. You could look up the answer later, but why wait? Presenters like to get questions (as long as they’re on topic) since it shows people are paying attention and interested. Plus, if there’s something you want to ask about, somebody else there is likely wondering the same thing. They’re probably just too nervous to speak up or not sure how to frame the question well.
A big part of professional development is small things done consistently over time. Try cultivating a practice of asking a question whenever you attend a presentation. You’ll see dividends in networking, continuing education and thought leadership.