What are the best ways to encourage audience questions? What are the best ways to coax your listeners into participation? Read on to find out…
Turn the Tables
One of the most common causes of scarce viewer contribution can be the audience’s perceived lack of familiarity with the matters you’ve discussed; many viewers may feel hesitant to raise even their most basic concerns for fear of coming across as dense or inattentive.
To boost your audience’s self-conviction and get those queries rolling in, begin your Q&A session by presenting your listeners with a series of simple, relevant questions for them to answer.
This approach will not only act as an effective, unexpected ice-breaker, it will also prove useful as a catalyst to inspire your audience into coming up with helpful, imaginative questions of their own. Just be sure to leave the answering itself on a voluntary basis. It’s a presentation, not an inquisition; putting an unwilling participant on the spot will hardly help to ease the atmosphere.
While an open body posture can certainly help to encourage participation, upturned palms and smiling, raised eyebrows will only take you so far when it comes to encouraging those more bashful of audiences.
So, try taking things a step further. Using a wireless microphone, take a stroll in front of the audience, inviting questions as you go. Then, as and when a query arises, take a seat beside the speaker to give your answer in full. This will instil your entire audience with the sense that your undivided attention is up for grabs – and spare your audience the embarrassment of shouting, too.
It doesn’t suit all presenters, but if you want more questions, kick off your pitch with the clarification that you’ll be accepting questions from start to finish. At the same time, it’s important to make clear that any spontaneous queries must be both brief and relevant; to avoid an undesirable digression from the subject proper, those more complex of queries should be raised only during your designated post-pitch discussion.
When it comes to bringing about a fruitful Q&A session, instilling your viewers with the confidence to participate really is vital. If your talk is overly complex or crammed with obscure jargon, you’ll risk intimidating the audience into silence. If, on the other hand, your content is too simple, you’ll leave your viewers with nothing to ask.
So, identify your audience’s level of familiarity with the topic by carrying out some pre-talk research into their personal and professional demographics. Preparing the talk with your findings in mind will allow you to build a rapport and create a healthy, discourse-friendly Q&A environment.
Safety in Numbers
Never underestimate the nerves required to put oneself forward as the centre of attention; questioning your presenter does, after all, amount to public speaking – and that’s your job, not theirs.
By beginning the session with a handful of questions aimed at the audience as a whole, you’ll ease your individual listeners into the rhythm of productive, voluntary participation.
Ask your entire audience either to raise a palm or to stand up. Then, pose a series of questions. Those answering in the negative should be asked to lower their hand or to sit down. Your subsequent questions will eliminate further “standers”, eventually leaving an elite, hopefully flattered, handful of viewers, each of whom may wish to leave a comment as they finally take their seat. As well as proving an effective ice-breaker, this approach will act as an invaluable balance boost for your own knowledge bank; if thirty percent of the audience sit when asked if they own a laptop, you’ll be able to use this figure for future research, or even as a reference for your next presentation.
To extend the format, try asking your audience to take up different poses in accordance with their answers. Those answering a certain way, for example, might be asked to wave with their left hand, while others may be asked to wave with their right. Others still will be required to nod their heads, shrug their shoulders or continuously clap their hands. Nothing, after all, paves the way for communication quite like a room full of jiggling, hilariously contorted body shapes.
Remember: each question you’re asked should be considered a complimentary token of interest in the information you’ve presented. And needless to say, the more questions you receive, the more opportunities you’ll have to accentuate your major arguments.
Aim to create a snowball effect of increasingly complicated queries by thanking each speaker for his or her contribution – regardless of how mundane that contribution may have seemed.
Take care to repeat each question out loud for those who may not have heard and, having given your full response, invite the other listeners to expand upon the subject with any related queries of their own.
George A Dixon
So, what methods do you use to energise your Q&A sessions? Please leave your comments in the box below…