One of the most powerful ways you can connect with your audience and begin a conversation is by asking an engaging question – and then be silent. Wait for the answer. If you suffer the silence for one or two seconds, and look like you are expecting a response, someone will answer you!
Many speakers get nervous and answer their own question (otherwise known as a “rhetorical” question), which severely limits interaction. They might ask a series of rhetorical questions where they don’t get, nor were they expecting a response. Then, when they poll the audience (a show of hands, please), they wonder why people don’t raise their hands!
Most audiences get confused. Do you want an answer or not? If you want an answer, pause and listen for the answer. If you are going to poll the audience, ask the question and model the behavior you are looking for. For example, “Who here…” and while you are asking the question, raise your hand high in the air. This sends a clear signal that you are expecting those people who will say “yes” will raise their hand with you. Moreover, you are the one person in the room who can see all the results, and enquiring minds want to know. Share the results in the form of a statistic: “That looks like thirty folks, so that’s 10 percent of the group.” Or, if you want to make it a tad bit funny, be more precise, even though it is obviously a best guesstimate: “27 folks agree, and that is 13.3 percent of the group.”