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Don’t Bring Me Answers, Bring Me More Questions!

Don’t Bring Me Answers, Bring Me More Questions!
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    Don’t depend on answers in uncertain times

    We live in a world that seems endlessly hungry for answers: preferably quick, unambiguous, definitive, once-and-for-all, simple answers. We want to be told what to do, how to solve our problems, how to live our lives to best effect. At work, bosses grind out the old chestnut, “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions.” Politicians running for office are expected to come up with the answers to the nation’s greatest difficulties, long before they ever get to the elected position that would allow them to see any of the available, detailed information.

    In our personal lives as well, we want nice, simple recipes for coping. Hence the huge popularity of articles with titles like: “Five simple ways to . . .” or “How to deal with . . . once and for all.”

    But what if I suggested that answers aren’t all they’re expected to be; and that what you need most of all are more questions, even if — especially if — you have no idea how to answer them?

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    Answers too easily prove wrong

    The trouble with answers is that they are quite often wrong: anywhere from totally, hopelessly wrong to just far enough off the right track to produce unexpected future problems. Questions are rarely wrong enough to be useless. Even the wrong questions can lead to unexpected but useful insights. The right question is worth much more than the right answer, since nearly every answer applies only in certain given circumstances, whereas a good question is a good question almost anywhere.

    Science used to be based rigorously on questions, not answers. Every ‘answer’ was judged to be no more than provisional — a theory only — waiting to be disproved by someone with better techniques, more data or greater insight. No area of scientific knowledge was out-of-bounds to questioners; however firmly, or for however long, its theories had been accepted. Sir Isaac Newton supplied the final answer to how the universe worked, until new techniques came along, Einstein arrived, and more than two centuries of scientific ‘knowledge’ was overturned. Now science too is pushed, pressurized and exhorted to produce definite answers, so that the conclusions of research are instantly announced as fact by the media — only to be overturned later by new ‘facts’.

    Answers represent dead ends

    The more definitive and widely accepted the ‘answer’, the more it prevents people from seeing how it will turn out to be wrong. Once you think you know, for a fact, that things work in a particular way — or the answer to problem ‘a’ is always technique ‘b’ — there’s no need to explore any further. Of course, over time, the world changes, but almost nobody looks to see if that affects what they already know for sure — until the unthinkable happens and our nice, simple answers stop working.

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    The world of business is especially prone to relying on widely accepted ‘right’ answers — until they aren’t answers any more. Only then do people run around in a panic trying to find some other way. And when they find one, what do they do? You’ve got it. They quickly stop looking further. Having so many problems to deal with, they gratefully shelve that one as ‘solved’ and forget about it. As one of the guest authors on my Slow Leadership blog explained recently, they play ‘Whack-a-mole Management.’ A problem shows its head; they whack it with some suitable mallet, forget it, and look around to see where the next one will pop up.

    Answers kill creativity

    Creativity is only needed when you don’t know the best way to do something — or suspect the accepted answer isn’t as good as everyone else seems to think. If you truly believe that there is one, right answer to a problem and you already know what it is, what is there to be creative about?

    Questions, of course, are exactly the opposite. They are the life-blood of all creativity. One of the main differences between naturally creative people and the rest is that the creative types are never satisfied with whatever answers they have. They distrust them on principle. Give them an answer and they get cranky and try to prove it isn’t an answer at all. Give them a question, and they’re as happy as a child playing in a sand pit. First they create this answer, only to trample it down and use the ‘sand’ to build another one. What annoys ‘practical’ people about creative types is that they never stop asking questions. What drives creative people wild about ‘practical’ types is that they rarely start.

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    Don’t build your life around what you think you already know

    What takes this topic out of the realm of philosophy and into everyday life is the understanding that any life built around a set of supposedly firm, known answers is like a huge tree in the path of a hurricane. It looks wonderfully solid and unshakeable, but when the winds get wild enough, they are going to snap it into matchwood. With no capacity to bend or change under the onslaught, it either survives until the next attack — perhaps badly damaged — or is destroyed. All it can do is resist and hope for the best.

    People who know the answers in advance — or believe they do — suffer the same fate. They resist or ignore changing circumstances until something comes along that is stronger than they are. Then their carefully constructed, stable lives are ripped up and ruined. With no other options, and little practice in finding any, they are often damaged beyond repair.

    In contrast, the small bushes and saplings bend and twist. Some are uprooted and some are damaged, but most make it through, despite being far, far weaker than the great tree now lying dead and in ruins. Buildings designed to flex can survive earthquakes. Rigid ones collapse.

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    A life is better built around questions

    When you build your life and career around questions, you’re always looking to see how you can find better ways of dealing with whatever events throw at you. Since you don’t assume you already know all the answers, you keep exploring — often finding along the way all kinds of unexpected and wonderful treasures you didn’t know were there. Change is easy and natural. If parts of your life get blown apart, your creativity can quickly get to work to make good the damage. Even in bad times, you probably won’t just survive; you’ll find life’s storms have opened up pathways that weren’t open to you before.

    Here’s one recipe for becoming stronger, wiser and much more able to survive bad times:

    1. Don’t seek to have all the answers; seek out more questions, even if they seem to threaten what you think you know.
    2. Always distrust what answers you have now; they’re probably less firm that they appear to be.
    3. Don’t accept others’ answers, however loudly they parade them as incontrovertible facts; almost nothing out there is as secure as that.
    4. Above all, don’t trot out neat, second-hand solutions. Stick to messy, first-hand problems, ask questions continually and find your own way forward.

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    Last Updated on February 11, 2021

    10 Secrets of Making Every Presentation Fun, Engaging, and Enjoyable

    10 Secrets of Making Every Presentation Fun, Engaging, and Enjoyable

    Not a lot of people are good at public speaking. You could even say that virtually everyone needs to get some practice, and preferably good guidance, before they can learn to stay calm when facing a room full of people. Having all eyes on you is an uncomfortable experience and it takes time to get used to. However, even if you can manage to control your stage fright and stay focused, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your presentation won’t put people to sleep. This is usually the case with long presentations on a very dull subject, with the presenter speaking in a monotone voice and dimming the lights to play a PowerPoint presentation.

    You have to work hard to develop the right skills

    If you want to be remembered and actually get people engaged, you need to make your presentation fun and enjoyable, without coming off as corny or desperate to please. I know, it doesn’t sound that easy at all! A good presentation during a promotional event or given to an important client can be a game changer for your business, so it is easy to get stressed out and fail to perform all that well. Luckily, giving an interesting lecture is something that can be practiced and perfected. There is plenty of advice out there on the topic, but let’s look at the most important aspects of giving a memorable and fun presentation.

    1. Make your presentation short and sweet

    With very long, meandering speeches you tend to lose the audience pretty early on, and from then on out it’s just a test of endurance for the few bravest listeners. Not only will people’s attention start to drop rapidly after sitting and listening to you talk for 30 minutes, but you also risk watering down your core ideas and leaving your audience with little in the way of key phrases and important bits of information to take away from the whole ordeal. Famous speakers throughout history have known the importance of condensing the information by using well thought out sentences and short phrases loaded with meaning.

    JFK’s famous: ”It’s not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” expresses so much in very few words and gets the audience thinking. Ancient Spartans, for example were famous for their quick, dry wit, often demolishing their opponent’s argument with a single word or phrase. You’ll want to channel that ancient spirit and be as concise as possible when preparing your presentation.

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    2. Open up with a good ice breaker

    At the beginning, you are new to the audience. There is no rapport, no trust and the atmosphere is fairly neutral. Even if some of the people there know you personally, the concept of you as an authority on a particular matter giving a speech will be foreign to them. The best way to encourage a warm and friendly atmosphere is to get some kind of emotional response out of the audience right at the beginning. It doesn’t matter what emotion it is, you just need to connect with them on a more personal level. It can be shock, curiosity, laughter, knowing smirks, nervousness – whatever gets them out of that initial feeling of indifference. There are different kinds of effective ice-breakers, but generally speaking, the most successful ones utilize one of these tactics:

    • Joking
    • Tugging on their heart strings
    • Dropping a bombastic statement
    • Telling an interesting and relevant anecdote
    • Using a metaphor or drawing comparisons

    You can make a small, self-deprecating comment, stir the presentation one way and then suddenly surprise the audience, use sarcasm, open up with a short childhood story that taught you a lesson, quote a famous person and elaborate on it from personal experience, use an inspirational anecdote or hit them with a bit of nostalgia. Just remember to keep it short and move on once you’ve gotten a reaction.

    3. Keep things simple and to the point

    Once you’re done warming up the crowd you can ease them into the core concepts and important ideas that you will be presenting. Keep the same presentation style thoughout. If you’ve started off a bit ironic, using dry wit, you can’t just jump into a boring monologue. If you’ve started off with a bang, telling a couple of great little jokes and getting the crowd riled up, you have to keep them happy by throwing in little jokes here and there and being generally positive and energetic during the presentation. You need a certain structure that you won’t deviate too far from at any point. A good game plan consists of several important points that need to be addressed efficiently. This means moving on from one point to another in a logical manner, coming to a sound conclusion and making sure to accentuate the key information.

    4. Use a healthy dose of humor

    Some of the best speeches and presentations in the world, which have been heard and viewed by millions, all feature plenty of humor. No matter the subject, a great speaker will use natural charisma, humor and beautiful language to convey their points and get the crowd excited about what they are saying. A great example of building rapport with the audience through the use of humor is Barrack Obama talking about the government building Iron Man.

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    It is silly and fun, and absolutely not something that you would expect from a man in a position of power speaking in such a serious setting – and it’s exactly why it works. The more serious the situation and the bigger the accent on proper social behavior, the harder your jokes will hit.

    5. Try to tell a story instead of ranting

    Some people can do all of the above things right and still manage to turn their short and fun little presentation into a chaotic mess of information. You don’t want your speech to look like you just threw a bunch of information in a blender in no particular order. To avoid rambling, create a strong structure. Start with the ice breaker, introduce the core concepts and your goals briefly, elaborate on the various points in a bit more detail, draw logical conclusions and leave your audience with a clear takeaway message. You want to flow naturally from one part to the next like you are telling a big story chapter by chapter.

    6. Practice your delivery

    Standing in front of the mirror and practicing a speech or presentation is a technique as old as mirrors – well, come to think of it, as old as human speech, since you can see yourself reflected in any clear and calm body of water – and that means that it is tried and true. The theory is incredibly simple, yet the real problem is actually putting in the effort day in and day out. Work on your posture, your tone of voice, accent, pauses between sentences and facial expressions. The most important thing is to talk slowly and loudly enough to be heard and understood clearly. Many famous speakers, such as Demosthenes and King George VI, overcame speech impediments through hard work.

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    7. Move around and use your hands

    Although you won’t instill confidence in your project if you are very jittery, moving around erratically, not knowing what to do with your hands and making fast movements, standing dead still can be just as bad. You shouldn’t be afraid to use your arms and hands when talking as it makes you seem more passionate and confident. The same goes for moving around and taking up some space. However, try to make slower, calculated and deliberate movements. You want your movements to seem powerful, yet effortless. You can achieve this through practice.

    8. Engage the audience by making them relate

    Sometimes you will lose the audience somewhat in techno-babble, numbers, graphs and abstract ideas. At that point it is important to reel them back in using some good, old-fashioned storytelling. Make comparisons to events from everyday life that most people are more than familiar with. By making things look simple, not only will you help your audience get a better understanding of the subject by enabling them to visualize the information more clearly, you will also draw a connection between you. After all, you are all just regular people with similar experience, you just happen to be performing different roles at the moment.

    9. Use funny images in your slides

    Although slides are not really necessary at all times, if you do need them to make your point and present your information more effectively, it’s best to liven them up. They say that facts aren’t always black and white, and your presentation should reflect this. Add a bit of color, make the information stand out and use an interesting animation to switch from slide to slide. You can use the slides to add some more humor, both in terms of the text and the images. An image that is used to elicit a positive response needs to be funny within the context of what you are discussing. For example, if you are discussing the topic of authority, an image of Eric Cartman from South Park in a police uniform, demanding that you respect his “authoritah,” is a nice way to have a bit of fun and lighten things up.

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    10. End on a more serious note

    When all is said and done you will want the audience to remember the core concepts and keep thinking about what you have said after the presentation is over. This is why you should let things naturally calm down and end with an important idea, quote or even a question. Plant a seed in their mind and make them think. Let us turn to Patrick Henry for a great way to end a speech: “Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.”

    As you can see, there is quite a bit to learn when it comes to giving a good presentation, one that is both memorable and fun. Be sure to work on your skills tirelessly and follow in the footsteps of great orators.

    Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

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