How do I get people in my audience to ask questions?
Recently a vice president of a major healthcare company asked me this question during one of our coaching sessions on presentation skills.
No one had ever asked me that before!
Often presenters want to avoid anything to do with the Q&A segment of a presentation, but he wanted questions so he would know whether his audience had grasped his concepts. This desire for feedback is just one reason to encourage questions. There are others.
For example, you seem more approachable as a speaker when you take questions. Plus, how you answer the questions, and participate in any discussion that follows, can help explain and/or enhance your ideas and clarify any misunderstandings. In addition, the types of questions asked may let you know your participants’ opinions of your suggestions.
Try these 6 suggestions to encourage people to ask questions:
1. Let the audience know when you will be taking questions. Don’t assume your audience knows; tell them at the beginning of your talk. In a more informal talk or training session, participants may be encouraged to ask questions throughout. (“I’m open for questions throughout my presentation.”). Or, if the presenter doesn’t want to interrupt the flow, he or she can ask the audience: “Please save your questions until the end of my talk.”
2. Non-verbally encourage questions. Keep your body language open, and don’t cross your arms. Look at your audience. Move towards audience members when you can. Pause after you ask for questions – don’t rush to start talking. This gives the participants a few seconds to formulate their ideas.
3. Use an open-ended question. If you say to your audience, “What questions do you have?,” you are telling participants you assume that they have questions and, as a result, they’re more likely to speak up. If you say, “Do you have any questions?,” it is easy for people to say “No.”
4. Request questions on a specific topic. You can expand on the above open-ended question and pinpoint a particular area of your presentation. For example, if you have discussed the budget, you can ask, “What questions do you have about the new budget items?” Also, asking about something you just discussed can help you transition from one part of your talk to another.
5. Have participants write their questions and submit them beforehand. This can be effective with large audiences or audiences at remote locations. You can answer some of the questions during your presentation, or refer to them at the end.
6. Be prepared with your own first question. When you ask for questions and no one speaks up, you can offer one of your own by saying, “A question I am often asked is… .” Hearing you answer a question often makes audience members feel more comfortable asking questions of their own. Or, you might consider coordinating with a participant before your presentation, and arrange for that person to get things started by asking a specific question.
This blog addresses how to encourage questions from your audience. There’s a lot more to discuss about handling questions, including how to prepare for difficult ones. But that’s a blog for another day.
You can find additional information on making presentations in my book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success (McGraw Hill, 2013).
Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on presentations skills and business communication. For additional information, contact Joyce Hoff at 856.751.6141 or firstname.lastname@example.org.