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The art of asking questions

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Can you say more with a question? Most messages we send are statements. Can questions improve the way we communicate? Open-ended questions make you wonder. Thought-provoking questions intrigue your audience, trigger their imaginations and pull them towards your viewpoint.

Helping customers imagine a different future—not the status quo—is one key to making the challenger sale . Questions change audiences from passive listeners into active participants who are co-creating your message.

Why use questions online? When you create online content that's question-driven, with real questions that real customers are asking, you boost your website's search engine results. To see questions people are asking now, try LinkedIn's Answers page, where customers' questions reveal a lot about how they think.

You can use questions to intrigue your audience. For example, Tellabs' white paper 4G: The What, Why and When continues to be the number one organic search result for people who Google "Why 4G?"

When your audience finds new information through an interactive experience (such as a Q&A or a Web search), the exact same information has much more emotional impact. It's likelier to be recalled. And it's much likelier to be acted upon.

What happens when you start with a question? When you give a speech or presentation, try starting with a thought-provoking question. Listen closely for your audience's responses, either by a show of hands or by letting several people address your question before you start presenting.

As soon as you ask your question, your audience starts leaning forward. They get involved. To make the most out of your question, reflect the audience's answers back to them—and then interweave their answers with your message.

Why use rhetorical questions? Remember, the rhetorical question can trump any statement. In their only Presidential debate, Ronald Reagan challenged President Jimmy Carter and voters with his rhetorical questions : "Are you better off than you were four years ago? … Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago?"

No one recalls what Carter said that night. But Reagan's questions resonated with voters, just a week before the 1980 election. They made people wonder. Reagan's questions resonated so well they helped him earn a reputation as a great communicator. And presidential candidates are still using his questions, more than three decades later.

Questions—whether designed to elicit a response or to be rhetorical—draw your audience into your message. Questions invite the audience to actively fill in the blanks with their own pictures, words and stories. That's how questions can make your story even more believable.

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