Standard operating procedure is not usually standout. Especially when it comes to speaking or presenting. Take, for instance, the age-old closer: “Any questions?” Let’s be honest, “Any questions?” is quite simply the international “I’m-done-here-and-I-want-to-appear-to-be-open-to-it-but-please-don’t-ask-me-anything” signal.

Business people who have been through my training have had “Any questions?” purged from their repertoires. Not allowed. Why? Simple: It’s way too vague and open-ended, and it’s all too often insincere. A speaker will typically say it at the tail end of a meeting or presentation when everyone is ready to go. And so in any given audience there are people who are too intimidated to ask a question; they recognize the speaker is done, time has run out, and anyway they have 50 questions, not just one. A lot of audience members are thinking, “sheesh, where would I even begin?” And so they leave the room not entirely sure of what they are supposed to think or know or do. Another presentation is lost.

What, you ask, should replace “Any questions?”? Well, first off, it’s nice to reach into your audience (even, and especially, when it’s small) to ask for reflection back. As in, “tell me what you heard/remembered from my talk today?” Or, “is there anything about what I just covered that still leaves you puzzled?” And even better, “what else can I tell you or provide you with that will help complete your understanding?” These questions will give you incredible real-time feedback about how effective you were at getting your point(s) across.

And perhaps more importantly, these questions do not need to be saved until the very end. They can and should be sprinkled throughout a talk, especially when audience comprehension is critical … e.g. with clients! If you have to save questions for the very end, then please make every effort to leave ample time.

“Any questions?” is so very superficial, I fear it has become a throwaway line. Be better than that, connect, dig deeper, get real and get open about it. Ask something meatier and more specific.

So, with that, I won’t ask “Any questions?” Instead, I’ll ask if you would now feel comfortable switching it up and trying out something new, something more specific, the next time you speak to a group? And if not, how can I help you with that … ?

Beth Levine