Tuesday, March 23, 2010

17 reasons to welcome audience questions

Sometimes I run into a speaker -- either in coaching or a workshop setting -- who's uncomfortable, almost defensive about questions coming from the audience.  It almost seems as if questions are an affront, an attack, to the speaker, even if the questions are relatively mild. Sometimes you can see it in action, when the speaker winces or starts to shake her head "no" while the question's being asked, if she disagrees. Sometimes the speaker admits to it when we're discussing how to handle Q&A, as in, "But they shouldn't be asking that!" or "I couldn't believe that's what I had to answer." 

That's a more aggressive response. Others see questions as criticisms of themselves or their talks.  Both responses can frustrate your audience, and worse, make you look defensive rather than calm and knowledgeable.

I take a different view:  Speakers should welcome audience questions, and I say the more, the merrier--and the more effective you can count your talk or presentation.  So stop worrying and learn to love the Q&A, because questions mean:

  1. You provoked thoughts in your audience.
  2. They listened to you.
  3. You caught their imaginations, fancies or sore spots.
  4. They arrived with ideas about your topic and want to express them.
  5. You didn't overload your speech to the point where there was nothing less to say.
  6. People want to explore more about what you said.
  7. People think you have answers to something they've been searching for.
  8. People have knowledge to share and add to what you've said.
  9. Someone has the answer to something you didn't, and wants to share it.
  10. Some might be just starting out and need to know.
  11. Some might have old habits to unlearn, based on what you've said, and want to know how.
  12. You allowed time for inquiry, rather than filling up the time allotted.
  13. Someone's seeing a connection to another field, topic or focus, based on what you said.
  14. Some folks have real-life experiences that underscore what you just said.
  15. You asked for questions. Remember? They're expecting you to act like you meant it.
  16. You confused some people, and they want clarification, so you get a second chance to do it right.
  17. They want to learn what you're teaching, and repetition and discussion will help them take away the lesson.
I sometimes have trainees who fear getting no questions at all--and they're right to be concerned, since questions are the best way to confirm that you've engaged with your audience.  So build in time for Q&A right at the start of your talk, or allow questions throughout, and be sure that you purposely don't share every fact in your bag of facts, so that you can bring some out during Q&A and make your audience look smart while they get additional insights.

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