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Teaching & Advising > Discussion Tips

Spirited Question-and-Answer Sessions

When addressing large groups, the opportunities for individual attention are limited ... until you get to questions. Here are some tips used by seasoned speakers.

  • Take questions from all parts of the room.  Don't restrict yourself to people sitting in the front row.  Don't let special interest groups monopolize you.

  • Listen carefully to each question.  Don't frown or smile as you listen--reserve your response until you answer.

  • Mind your body language.  Avoid motions that might convey uncertainty or lack of interest.  Try not to show your approval or disapproval of the questioner's viewpoint or manner of asking.

  • Look at each questioner until you understand the question, then direct your answer to the whole audience.  This keeps you from getting stuck in an exchange with just one person and invites others to join in.

  • Treat each questioner as equal.  Avoid the "Good question!" compliment; however sincere, it suggests that you are evaluating the quality of the question and some are better than others.  Show respect and curiosity for each question.  You did ask for them!

  • Repeat questions in full or at least paraphrase them.  This ensures that you have understood, gives others a chance to fully hear it, and even gives you a moment to collect your thoughts.

  • Respond simply and directly.  Use the time to clarify and reinforce points you made during the lecture, not to make impromptu speeches or major additions.  If the questions go too far off the topic, state limitations to refocus the group.  If questions are slow in coming, be prepared to prime the pump--or move on to other activities.

  • Encourage questions right up to the time limit, but avoid saying, "We have time for one more question."  If it turns out to be a difficult one or one that raises important further points, you'd end on a "down" tone.  Instead, choose a question and answer that makes a good ending and simply end there.

  • Use buzz groups.  If you are working with a large audience and you expect more questions than time permits, consider asking people to turn to their neighbors and form groups of three to four.  Ask them to quickly pool their questions on a piece of paper and assign a priority rating to the list.  One person acts as spokesperson for each group, raising one question at a time.  Group by group, you ask for their next-most-important question.  Those already posed by others are deleted from the list as you proceed.

Source:  Renner, Peter (1994). The Art of Teaching Adults: How to Become an Exceptional Instructor and Facilitator. Vancouver: Training Associates. (Can be found in the Emma Waters Summar Library in the Faculty Development section - LC5219.R458)

"Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment 'as to the Lord.' It is our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done and any grace received."
-C.S. Lewis; Learning in Wartime, The Weight of Glory