Facilitating Effective Audience Interaction With Questions

Q and A yellow

“We’re going to hold all questions until the end of the presentation. If we have time, we’ll answer them then.”

It’s the generic statement many presenters make that audiences hate.

Why Presenters Use This Statement

Typically, the presenter’s goal is to cover as much content as possible. They have an agenda to cover. They fear that audience questions may take them on a rabbit trail which can be a time-waster…at least in their view.

Several other fears often cross their mind: What if someone asks a long-winded question? What if the question is off-topic? What if the question is a self-serving promotion? What if I don’t know the answer? What if I am going to cover that question later?

Presenters often believe that the more they can control what is said, the more the audience will learn. Unfortunately, the opposite is true.

Your Brain Is Hungry For Meaning

The statement, “We’re going to hold all questions until the end of the presentation,” is the perfect way to create a buzz kill. It causes the audience to feel anxious, frustrated and stressed.

A better way is for the speaker to schedule several times during their presentation for Q & A. The best way is for the speaker to address questions as they arise.


Our brains crave meaning.

Learning is the process where our brains begin to recognize useful associations and connections with previously stored information.

Each time we discover a pattern from new information linked to past learning, we grow our brain’s perceptual map. And the brain feels a sense of relief from anxiety, confusion and stress that accompanies raw data. It actually feels a sense of elation when it learns something useful and new.

If you want to overwhelm the brain, keep it stuck on a pressing question. Then continue to throw a lot of raw data, facts and figures at it without any explanation. And make sure you keep the spigot of statistics and information coming without addressing the questions at hand. That will create a feeling of stress and frustration for sure.

If you want to engage the brain, answering a participant’s question may supply the missing link to strengthen understanding. Making the participant wait, or ignoring their question, ensures that they will continue to feel frustrated. And that their understanding is incomplete.

6 Steps To Better Questions And Questioning Strategies

Here are six presenter tips for questions and questioning.

  1. At the start of the presentation, the speaker should let the audience know his or her expectations regarding questions.
  2. The presenter should use whole-group questions which help audiences focus on common experiences.
    Example: How many of you have had this happen…? This creates a bridge between the presenter and the audience.
  3. Schedule several designated times for Q & A during the presentation.
  4. Encourage the audience to raise their hands when they have a question.
  5. Avoid asking the audience witch-hunt questions that have only one specific answer.
    The goal of asking the audience questions should not be to please the presenter. The goal is to increase learning and retention.
  6. Ask open-ended questions that participants can discuss with each other.
    Then the participants invest more in the topic.

What are some presenter do or don’ts regarding questions that you would add to this list? How do you feel when a presenter ignores questions?

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1 comment
  1. Bob Vaez says:

    Great post Jeff…

    I’ve also been up there speaking and I can tell you for a fact that when a speaker engages the audience and asks a question it shows his/her confidence in the subject manner and control over material. Not everyone feels that confident hence asking questions becomes a risk factor for them! And I couldn’t agree more with your comment on ‘planning’ ahead…

    We’ve worked with a number of events recently trying to integrate some sort of interactive polling with our mobile app and one thing we have noticed that has worked well is starting with a general but controversial question similar to what you mentioned above “What do you all think about the state of x,y,z?”. Some of the best sessions I have been at, the speaker always tried to made me think!

    Here’s an example of one of the flows that works really well…
    http://eventmobi.com/himss/session?id=1564 (click on Questionnaire). If the speaker is prepared enough and can take the result from the responses to fine tune the presentation, that will make it much more engaging for the audience.

    Would love to hear your thought if you think open-ended questions are better or some sort of multiple choice, yes/no questions to help keep focus on the topic?


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