I’ll never forget having lunch with a client who had just spent the morning listening to pitch after pitch by consultants who wanted to work with his company.

My client said to me, “Almost every consultant started out with a 20-minute description of their capabilities, but one person was different. One person started the meeting by asking, ‘What’s most important to you in the next 30 minutes?’ That’s the person we’re going to work with, because they actually took the time to listen to our challenges before they presented a solution.”

While our entire team at Global Public Speaking teaches speaking skills to leaders, we also teach leaders to ask detailed questions when they speak. The audience analysis they do before the presentation is critical to understanding their audience’s needs and interests and crafting an effective persuasive message.

Ultimately, the goal of communication is to build trust between the speaker and their audience. And asking powerful questions can create a deeper sense of trust and connection – especially in client-facing settings.

A 2017 study of strangers having a conversation found that asking someone questions, especially follow-up questions, increased interpersonal liking. Isn’t that what a meeting with a new client or colleague is – strangers finding common ground?

We teach leaders to ask two types of questions: Learning Questions and Understanding Questions:

Learning Questions: This first type of question is helpful in making small talk, such as asking about the weather or the commute into the office. It can be helpful to clarify details such as when a project is due or how someone heard about us. It also gives us a sense of the sentiment and energy level of our audience – whether our “audience” is one client or their entire team – that can help us identify their mindset. The answers are typically either Yes or No or a short, factual answer. These are transactional questions.

Understanding Questions: This second type of question is when we want to create a deeper relationship with another person. For example, you could ask questions such as, “What does success look like for you in this project? Why is this project important to you? What are you hoping to achieve today? Can you tell me more about what you just shared?” What makes this second type of question powerful is that it prompts the receiver to share their motivations and feelings, allowing for a deeper connection. It might even prompt the receiver to think differently about the challenge they brought to the meeting, which helps you establish more of an advisory relationship than a transactional one.

How to put this into practice:

When your team calls on clients, ask them to create both types of questions and work with them to suggest a few questions based on your knowledge of the client or the industry. And when you yourself have an upcoming meeting, ask those around you who know the client for their feedback on which questions to ask.

At Global Public Speaking, we believe each one of us has something powerful to say, on behalf of ourselves or others. That means that when others take the time to speak, we should listen and learn from them.