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The Power of Asking–and the Fear Behind Why We Don’t Do It

The Power of Asking–and the Fear Behind Why We Don’t Do It
This entry is part 5 of 7 in the series Ask

Notes, outtakes, and rehearsals for my upcoming speech titled, “Ask.”



Ask. Just three little letters. Why are they so difficult?

  • Finger: In the air, breaking glass, rising up/above
  • Wall: a lack of communication, a disconnect, a barrier

“Ask and you shall receive.” But we don’t ask.

The Visual

I’m a very visual thinker. I usually “see” it in my mind and then write and speak and discuss to figure out how to “draw” it so others can see it.

I saw a young boy and a teacher. The teacher couldn’t see the boy because he was behind a wall of (foggy) glass.

Behind the glass were just blobs of heads, boys and girls: his students. No one stuck out even if they had red hair or were very tall.

The only thing that could break through the wall was a finger. A forefinger. Raised by a student in the form of a question.

In Dutch, you say, “Steek je finger op.” (Put your finger up.) In English, you say, “Raise your hand.” I like the finger because it’s smaller and pointier and can more easily break a pane of glass.

The student raises his hand, she puts her finger in the air and it breaks through the wall that was between the teacher and the students. Now the teacher can see and hear this student. She now exists. She’s a breathing human in front of him. Oh, and she has a question.

Here’s the best part: it almost doesn’t matter what the question is.

Just raising your hand, lifting your finger in the air already sets you apart. In the eyes of the teacher (or employer or recruiter or uncle or … your date), you are now unique.

We’re breaking down barriers, we’re opening lines of communication, we’re starting a relationship we preaviously didn’t have–that previously didn’t even exist.

Challenge: what’s holding people back?

  1. Fear (looking stupid),
  2. Lazy
  3. “I can do it myself.”
  4. Xxx

Benefit: why bother?

  1. Learn, get answer, receive
  2. New ideas, unexpected, unknown (and why that’s a good thing),
  3. Connect: with others, with those who respect asking
  4. Break through
  5. Rise above (where not possible alone)

Practice Sessions

Take #1

Let’s see how this goes.

Take #2

Let’s try that again.

Take #3

Take #4

Take #5

Take #6

Take #7

Asking is scary

Take #8

Want to rise above the masses?

Take #9

Here’s a reading of the text below (as of Wed. Mar. 6).

Take #10

We’re getting smoother, more passionate–at the same time.

Take #11

Getting into flow.

Take #12

Take #13

Notes, changes. Oh boy, here we go. Day of the talk.

Take #14

We’re bringing in the mind, the heart, and the gut.

Take #15

Accents, trying to stand still, and having fun. Oh yeah. Here we go.

Take #16

Take #17

Take #18

The Speech

Utrecht Toastmasters Competition Speech, “International,” March 8, 2019

Speech Text / Draft

[Opening scene with me raising my finger in the air–and saying nothing. When it’s quiet and I have their full attention, I begin.]

I have a question.

You see, in Dutch, they say, “Steek je vinger op” or “Steek je vinger om hoog” which translates to “put your finger up” or in English we say, “Raise your hand.”

The action means we have a question.

But I think it’s much more than that. There’s so much more going on when I make that simple gesture of raising my finger into the air.

What that finger is doing is breaking through an invisible glass ceiling or a glass wall between me and you. If we turn the tables and you’re the teacher and I’m the student surrounded by a field of other students, I stand out because I’m the one with my finger in the air. I’m the one who just broke the ceiling, I put a ripple in the still water, I dared to be the one to stand out.

As the teacher, you no longer see an ocean of students, but a single finger attached to a hand in the air held up by an arm and then a face and a body and that person just came to life for you. He was transformed from yet another lifeless blob among many to the one who dared ask a question.

Now you might be thinking to yourself, “Gee, what question could be so powerful?”

But we don’t even need to go there. The question itself is icing on the cake, it’s the dessert, it’s a bonus prize. The real part, the hard part, the part that most of us don’t do has already been done–daring to raise up that finger and ask.

Depending on your personality, you also might be thinking of the Russian proverb that says, “The tallest blade of grass is the first to be cut.” Or the Japanese who say, “The nail that pops up is always hammered down.” We know the Dutch can’t leave tall things sticking out, so they say, “boven het maaiveld uitsteken” loosely translated as “standing out above ground level.”

With all of that danger of standing out above the crowd, who dares raise her hand?

What type of person asks questions? Why don’t we just let someone else do it? Who wants to be that person who is noticed?

I can think of two people off the top of my head.

One is me.

The other is you.

Now I know you’re thinking. “Oh boy, not me. I want to keep down in the shadows and not draw attention to myself.”

I get it. I’m usually that way.

Except in one particular situation.

When I can’t hold it in anymore. When I can’t hold back. When I have a message or a question that is so important that I can’t let it remain one of the other blades of grass.

Ask. Three tiny little letters. So small and short. Just one little syllable.

Yet asking can be as torturous for some of us as dental work–without those lovely pain killers.

[again, raise my hand slowly. Wait for silence.]

I have a question.

I also know you have a question. You might wonder how I know, but I know. You know. You have a question. You have a burning question you’d love to ask.

But the big question is not whether or not we have a question but whether or not we’ll ask it.


  • Do you need another guest speaker for your event?
  • Is that seat taken?
  • Could I get your opinion on a new idea I have?
  • Will you marry me?
  • Would you mind if I walked you home tonight?

What if those questions were never asked? What if we were just too scared of the possible answers?

I have a question.

Do you?


5 Simple Questions Successful People Ask Themselves Every Day They’re actively thinking about the things they do. But questioning yourself doesn’t mean second-guessing yourself. It means evaluating your status and objectives, and what you’ll do to reach them with a clear, unbiased mind. It’s a practice that will help make you think and become more successful in work and life. Success Magazine

TEDx Talks

  • The Power of a Question | Tony Tepedino | TEDxRochester
  • The value of asking questions | Karen Maeyens | TEDxUFM. What one item would he take on a trip around the world? If only we knew how to listen and ask the right questions. What makes her smile? Do you know what drives them? What are their stories? The time for asking questions is right now. “Interested” is the secret juice of relationships. Fosters intimacy.
  • The Hidden Power of Questions | Steven Ilous | TEDxCulverCitySalon Was asking the question equally as important as the answer? The act of asking creates the possibility.
  • The Power of Simple Questions | Alan Duffy | TEDxYouth@Sydney If you want to understand something complex, ask a simple question.
Ask and you shall receive. Wait. Seriously?
Ask and you shall receive. But you have to ask. [Photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash]
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