How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
When you are asking questions of a group, whether it is a studio audience, a focus group a class of students or something else, there are a number of traps into which you can fall.
When you ask within a group, you can ask in a number of directions. Be clear about this so people in the group know how to answer. A general question asked to thin air may get no answer as people either think it is rhetorical or are not sure if you asking them.
Ask an individual
When asking an individual, use their name, point to them, say 'the person in the red hat' or otherwise ensure that they know you are asking them in particular.
Give them a moment or two to realize that they are being asked a question. A way of doing this is to first indicate that you are asking them a question, or even ask if you can ask. For example:
'Jeff, can I ask you a question about this?'
Ask a selection
To ask a subset from the group, first qualify them, and also let them know how they should make themselves visible. For example:
'Who here has got a Toyota car? Please put your hands up.'
Even if you are asking the group as a whole, again give them a prompt to let them know that they should wake up (if they were daydreaming) and start thinking. You can do this by asking for a volunteer:
'Who can tell me what this means?'
It is easy in a group to go to sleep or otherwise zone out. Keep them with you by being interesting and ensuring they are engaged at all times.
Keep looking around to see whether people are showing interest, confusion, agitation, etc. And then respond accordingly, of course. Ask those who look confused or agitated what the problem is, or ask them something to engage them (but beware of tirades, of course).
Point yourself at everybody from time to time. This does not need a finger - all you need is to point your body. Range back and forth looking down lines and diagonals of people (all in the line will think you are looking at them). Look into eyes - not just scanning but pausing on people but not staring, of course.
Help them think by talking about what they perhaps should be thinking. This may mean musing about meaning, summarizing understanding so far, making tentative conclusions and so on. Then look out to see if they are with you, of course.
When you have an answer from someone, it is often good to repeat it back to the group as many will not have heard it clearly. A way of doing this in combination with testing your understanding of the answer is to repeat it back to the person who answered in the form of a question. Thus:
'Thanks, Jim, so you think we should all learn to fly, is that right?'
Engage individual in short conversations, but beware of being dragged into something longer. Also beware of falling into a comfort zone of talking only with those who you like. Engage the whole group allowing multiple inputs with such as:
'Who else has an opinion on this?'
A key element of working with a group is steering them in the direction you want them to go.
Reward and punishment
Asking individuals focuses attention of everyone else on that individual, and how you respond to them will signal to others what to do next. If you criticize them, then few others will volunteer. If you praise or otherwise reward them (and this may be as simple as showing interest and offering thanks), then they and others will be more motivated to respond to further questions.
The attention you pay to what is said is a signal to everyone about what you really think of them all. If you pick up and praise them on a particular point, then the conversation will turn in that direction.
'That's a great point about long-term cost, Sue. Who else can add something about this?'
To steer a group towards the end of a session, summarize the whole session and perhaps allow a few more inputs to let people get out what is on their mind at the moment, whilst also blocking any new topics.
'We have five minutes left. Does anyone have any last comments to make?'
Notice the word 'last', which signals that the conclusion is rapidly approaching. The time comment is also a very clear signal.
Always end, by the way, with thanks. It may also help to tell them what will happen next (if this is relevant to them).