What if you ask for questions and nobody responds? This is unusual, unless the speech is on a topic that people are just not emotionally involved in. But if it does happen, it's usually for two reasons: You have answered all potential questions in your speech (pretty unlikely), or your audience feels uncomfortable about asking. Your job is to make them more comfortable. Even if the initial silence simply means no one wants to be first, it can be embarrassing for you. There are many good ways to get out of this spot:
Handing out question cards at the beginning of your speech gives people a way of jotting down thoughts as they occur. If you are going to read from these cards, ask for short questions and for people to print clearly. These cards also let people know you really do want questions. They encourage participation in large and formal presentations.
Take an information survey (which you have thought about in advance) by saying, "Let's see, by a show of hands, how you all would answer the following questions." The results of a question such as, "How many of you feel corporations should do more about day care?" can give you new information to discuss and also gets the audience involved.
These impromptu surveys are good icebreakers; they start the ball rolling.
Pose your own question by saying, "A question I'm frequently asked that might interest you is...." This method gives you more points to cover and buys time for your listeners to think up their own questions. If you ask your own question, make it provocative and of interest to many people, such as, "How can I handle customer resistance?"
Make the first question one you heard from an audience member: "On my way here this evening, your chairman asked me a question I thought would be interesting to everyone," or "In preparing for this talk, I interviewed some of your colleagues. Here are a few of the questions they asked me."
Deliberately leave out an obvious part of your speech—an omission that will stimulate responses. If you are talking about north, east, and west, but leave out south, someone will be sure to bring it up. You will also find out who is listening. Use this technique carefully, and be sure it works well with your presentation, because if you don't get to the omitted material quickly enough, people will think you are just poorly organized.
Arrange with the program chairman to select a member of the audience ahead of time to ask the first question. So if you ask for questions and no one responds, the prearranged "plant" will get things going. You don't have to plant the actual question; you just need a willing audience member to help out. But be careful: If the question is very neutral, or if the plant sounds like he or she is reciting a memorized question, you will lose your credibility. As a rule, it's better to choose one of the other methods and opt for spontaneity.
If you have saved the conclusion of your speech, you can simply get on with it by saying, "If there are no questions, let me share this essential thought with you."