How many questions should you take during your presentation or class?

 

A Yoga philosophy course I took once would always start the same way.  “Ok, before we start, any questions?”  We would get all kinds of random questions from “Did we cover that in the first or the second lesson?” to “Where did you get your coffee?”. The questions would continue until the last “Anything else?” went unanswered.  I always got the impression that the course leader didn’t want to be there and was waiting for the coffee to take effect before he started.  He may have structured his time this way to focus more on our needs, but in reality most of the questions were thought up to pass the time, show our interest, etc.  There was not enough structure to the types of questions being asked and the time allocated.

On the other hand, courses that only have a limited and structured question time are seen as very controlled and organized.  I worked on a teacher training course which required a lot of information to be conveyed in a very short time, leading most of us to resort to presenting information rather than facilitating the learning of it.  A colleague of mine, Patricia, told me she only allowed questions in the last 10 minutes of her presentation because participants usually asked about information she hadn’t given them yet.  Each end of the question spectrum has its advantages, so you should consider what you want the outcome to be: more information given or more assurance that all participants left understanding what they need to.

One of the many different courses I have participated in was a week-long course in lucid dreaming in an extremely beautiful school in Guatemala.  The environment and atmosphere of the school where the course took place was very carefully controlled, for example:

  • There were strict rules not to take anything inside except your notepad and pen, and no shoes were allowed.
  • We sat on mats which had been placed around the edges of the room.
  • We started with about 10 minutes of silence at the beginning of the session.
  • The course leader stood at the front and talked about her experiences of lucid dreaming and gave us our first steps to take in experimenting with dreaming.

This direct instruction is useful for making notes on large amounts of new information, and we did just that.  Everything she wrote on the board was scribbled into our notebooks and key words were caught to make sense of later.  Direct instruction is usually very controlled with little opportunity to stray from the lecture theme.  But there was one thing which wasn’t so controlled:

The course leader accepted questions at any time during a session.

In this course and in my own experience of doing this I noticed that when the connection between the course leader and participants is working well and when the message has a clear direction and is being delivered at a certain pace, the questions asked are often exactly what you would have gone on to answer anyway, even if they hadn’t openly been asked. During a lecture or course session of this type, the connection between teacher and participants is more easily seen when they can ask questions.

When giving a presentation (where you are giving the information to all of the participants at the same time), allowing questions from participants either during or after each section of the lecture creates a better relationship between you and the participants, and can make the subject matter or problem-solving more relevant to those participating.  

One simple example of how you can invite questions is by guiding participants towards the goals and reasons for the subject you are talking about. What is the problem we are solving?  This will inevitably lead to the important question ‘How?’, which will already be on their minds.  And ‘How?’ is probably the next thing on your list to talk about.

Questions from participants are a very important part of a ‘formal training environment’ where the presenter provides information to a group, as they are the only way you know which information the participants need be given and which track they think they are on. They might not be on the same learning track as you intended. As the presenter, you can learn a lot from this and ‘change your own track’ after hearing the questions.  The questions and answers serve as a bridge between what is happening in the participants’ minds and what is happening in yours – communication helps.

The questions should be relevant to the aims of your presentation, so these aims should be specific and clear from the start.

Allowing questions anytime can cause problems related to participants’ personal goals. One example of this is in the lucid dreaming course when one participant, Anna, had lots of questions about her experience of astral flying so far.  She had reached a high level of lucid dreaming and was actually even controlling where she flew to!  She was very interested any answers and the leader enjoyed the challenge.  It was an interesting exchange to witness.  But one day, after the initial ten-minute silence,  Sheri, a beginner in lucid dreaming, asked if we could refrain from asking questions until the end of the session as some of the questions were not relevant to anyone else.  There were nods of agreement around the room.

Of course, if a) there were no time constraints on these presentations, b) if the other participants were not thinking of time as money and c)  if they were interested in helping her to reach an understanding of her own situation, then answering all of her questions in front of the group wouldn’t be a problem. But this is rarely the case.  People pay for presentations and courses to receive something for themselves.  This makes personalized questions important but only when they are relevant to everyone.

Naturally, Anna protested. She said she wouldn’t remember her questions at the end of the session. Sheri suggested she write them down. In the end, the teacher said that she preferred people to be able to ask questions anytime as it is often relevant at that point in the lecture. She did, however, caution that the questions should be relevant to everyone.

Both Anna and Sheri showed respect for the teacher’s wishes and Anna continued to ask, but before asking, she apologized, saying ‘I’m sorry if this isn’t relevant to some here’. Of course, she didn’t really know what was relevant to the others and what wasn’t, but at least she was acknowledging this.

Questions from participants are much more relevant when all participants are at the same level of experience and knowledge.

For me, personally, as another participant in the class it was fascinating to see what others had experienced.  Anna was an advanced level lucid dreamer who was already flying astrally around the world.  After one week of lectures, I never did reach that level, or any level of experience in lucid dreaming, but It was fascinating to hear these experiences and how she processed what was happening.  However this means that the course of lectures was more entertaining for me than anything else.  I was an observer because as a beginner I couldn’t think of any questions to ask.  I didn’t need to do anything while I was there, or prove that I was able to reach a certain level.  There was no need for me to ask questions.

 

Consider the following points when deciding how much and when participants should be able to ask questions during your presentation:

  • Do you want everyone to have noted the same amount of information and to have understood what you are saying or are you happy for some participants to just observe?
  • How personalized would you like the content of your presentation to be for each individual?
  • Do you tend to get thrown off course if questions are asked while you are talking or are you happy to have questions to maintain the relevance to your audience?
  • Consider how you will manage who asks questions and makes comments.  Sometimes participants don’t realize they are taking over, while others don’t feel confident enough to ask.

Question: Are you ready?   Go and give a great presentation!

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