Today I need to throw some tough love at you and discuss this nonsense idea that there is no such thing as a stupid question.
We’ve all heard the saying that there’s no such thing as a stupid question and I understand the sentiment in certain settings where you want people to feel comfortable and be open with any doubts or concerns they have; in a classroom setting, for example. However, I hate to break it to you, people, but there definitely is such a thing as a stupid question and it’s all about context and what that question says about who is asking it.
As someone who works in the entrepreneurship support space, I attend a lot of conferences, workshops, panel discussions, and the like and the vast majority of them leave time at the end for the audience to ask questions. It always pains me at how often audience members are willing to stand up and ask completely inappropriate questions in this setting and seem utterly unaware that they’re actually killing their chances of moving their businesses forward with anyone in the room.
Again, I’m going to stay focused on public events with experts and investors and not discuss the classroom here. Any of my nextLEVEL students, please know that this post is absolutely not directed at you, it’s directed at attendees of conferences, workshops, and panel discussions. That said, at these types of public events, there are stupid questions and they mainly fall into two categories: the Googleable question and the inappropriate pitch.
Let’s take the inappropriate pitch first because that’s quicker as most people don’t do this. If you go to a workshop or a panel discussion led by investors and you would like to have a conversation with them about investing in your venture, the Q&A portion of the event is NOT the appropriate time to launch into your pitch and ask them if they’ll invest in you.
Firstly, that’s disrespectful of the time of everyone else in the audience and it’s not cute. They don’t want to sit there and listen to you ask for money. Secondly, there is no way an investor will be able to get enough info from you in one minute, which is the absolute max time you should be speaking, to be able to tell you anything helpful. If you want to connect with the speakers, ask an insightful question so they see and hear you and then go up to them after the session ends and introduce yourself. Will you invest in my business is not an insightful question.
The other type of stupid question is the Googleable question. For the most part, when experts and investors come to speak at these types of events they’re doing it because they want to support and give back but answering questions that could easily be answered by the internet doesn’t make them feel like it was a valuable use of their time. The CEO of the top co-working and incubator space here in Chicago noted that back in the day, ignorance was about a lack of access to knowledge and it could be cured. Today, with the ubiquitous access to an endless amount of information at our fingertips, ignorance is really an indicator of or proxy for laziness and laziness can’t be easily cured. Laziness isn’t something that makes someone want to mentor you or invest in your company. So when you come to these events, if you want to ask a question, please make sure it’s something that could only be answered by this person in this moment and is not something that you could have just Googled on your smartphone while you were waiting for the moderator to call on you and give you a mic.
Building a business is all about relationships and the impressions that you make on people so, I know this may sound harsh, but please be aware when you’re out and about that every single thing you do – including the questions you ask – affects how people perceive you so be careful that you’re not inadvertently asking stupid questions that make you seem lazy and ignorant.
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