Make Presentation Magic: One Question at a Time

Whether you’re using questions to engage your audience during your opening, or posing rhetorical questions during your presentation to keep your audience engaged, questions can be a savvy presenter’s best friends. Lee Cronin, a professor of chemistry, nanoscience, and chemical complexity solved four challenges he faced with his presentation when he delivered his compelling TED Talk entitled: “Print Your Own Medicine.” In three minutes and with only seven questions, he was able to deliver:

        • Complex information
        • To a mixed audience unfamiliar with the content
        • In under five minutes
        • In a way they would want to learn more

You too can create presentation magic, one question at a time, by applying three lessons from Cronin’s presentation:

Simplify the Story from the Start with the Right Questions

Sooner or later you’ll be faced with this challenge: How do I simplify a story that isn’t simple? Watch how Cronin uses his opening to simplify what could be a very complicated story:

“Organic chemists make molecules, very complicated molecules, by chopping up a big molecule into small molecules and reverse engineering. And as a chemist, one of the things I wanted to ask my research group a couple of years ago is, could we make a really cool universal chemistry set? In essence, could we “app” chemistry?”

Tip: Start by simplifying the work you and your team do in a single sentence. Then, set the stage for the rest of your message with one or two thought-provoking questions that you plan to answer with your presentation.

Use Leading Questions to Guide the Audience through Your Story

Another challenge you may face is: How do I craft an easy-to-understand-narrative when my content is not easy to understand?

Notice the way Cronin masterfully designs each point of his presentation around a leading, rhetorical question—the type of question that prompts a desired answer (but not necessarily from the audience):

      • “Now, what would this mean, and how would we do it?”
      • “Now, what would this mean?”
      • “So how are we doing this in the lab?”
      • “So what could this mean?”

Tip:   If your content is difficult to understand and you’re pressed for time, consider using simple leading, rhetorical questions to help your audience navigate through your story with ease.

Leave Them with a Question—and Wanting to Learn More

A third challenge every presenter faces is: How do I leave my audience wanting to learn more? Cronin accomplishes just that by closing with a question that echoes the playfulness of his opening question, “Could we app chemistry?” See how he does it:

“… And if that doesn’t seem fanciful enough, where do you think we’re going to go? Well, you’re going to have your own personal matter fabricator.

Beam me up, Scotty.”

Tip: Never, never underestimate the importance of leaving your audience wanting more. Start out by creating an echo to your opening, and then leaving the audience with a thought-provoking question that injects your passion for the subject, or show a touch of your playful personality.

Now, think back to those presentations that inspired you to find out more about the presenters, their research, their credentials, and much more. Surely they were presentations that undoubtedly included a few well-crafted questions that left you satisfied yet whet your appetite for more. Therein lies the magic!

Now it’s your turn!

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