Five Times To Take Questions From Your Audience
When should you take questions from an audience? Should you wait until the end of your talk, take them throughout your presentation, or refuse to take them altogether?
Depending on the speaking situation, all five of these approaches can work—but in most cases, you’ll likely choose the same one or two options.
In this post, you’ll learn the five times to take audience questions.
1. Take Questions Throughout Your Talk
This is the most appealing option for many business presentations, training seminars, and other informal formats.
By taking questions throughout your talk, you help audience members remain engaged and offer them a chance to clarify any unclear points. It also allows you to learn which topics are of greatest concern to them, giving you the opportunity to spend additional time in those areas.
Many speakers fear that too many questions can derail their talks or prevent them from getting through their material. They’re right, but good speakers learn how to manage their presentations by gracefully cutting off additional questions, reclaiming the floor, and redirecting less relevant questions to a hallway discussion following their talks.
This option is best for smaller groups, as it can become challenging to take questions throughout your talk when speaking to larger ones.
2. Take Questions At The End
Some speakers prefer to take questions at the end of their talks, since doing so allows them to get through their prepared material first. In some cases, that’s sound thinking. For example, it might be okay to hold questions until the end if you need to build a sequential case that leads to your powerful conclusion. The same is true if you’re delivering a more formal keynote address or speaking to a particularly large group.
But don’t choose this option solely to ensure that you have enough time to get through your prepared remarks. It’s usually better to prepare less material to make sure you have sufficient time for audience questions.
This option is a hybrid of the first two. I occasionally “chunk” audience questions during my keynote speeches. For example, if I have three main topics to cover during a one-hour talk, I’ll occasionally pause after each of the three topics to take questions. When one section ends, I might say, “Before moving on, I’d like to take two or three questions.”
4. Take Questions In Writing
This is my least favorite option. It takes the spontaneity out of the Q&A period and may even look like the speaker (or moderator) is screening out the most difficult questions. Of course, there are times when you might be willing to risk that in order to maintain control—but you should answer some of the more difficult questions to avoid being accused of ducking them.
5. Take No Questions At All
Not every presentation requires questions. Speakers delivering a large keynote addresses—think TED Talks, for example—often don’t take questions. But don’t avoid questions just because you’re uncomfortable with them. If the format of your speech typically allows for questions, you’re usually better off taking them instead of refusing them and looking evasive as a result.
Want more free public speaking tips? Check out our 25 Most Essential Public Speaking Tips.