I was about to give a speech to a business here in Indianapolis, when the emcee asked me if we’d have time for questions afterward. This raises the question: should speakers take questions from the audience?
The answer to this question is actually quite nuanced. Audience participation is almost always welcomed by any professional speaker. When people in the crowd respond to what you are saying, you know you’re connecting with them and are more likely to succeed in your goal of educating, inspiring, or entertaining them.
The difficulty is in creating the most optimal type of participation. We’ve all been to presentations where the speaker asks if there are any questions, and the audience falls silent. That can be embarrassing for everyone.
So what should speakers and event organizers do to avoid that awkward moment? Here are some suggestions:
- Decide On Questions Up Front. No matter how small or large your event, it’s worthwhile to work out a speaking event plan as part of the process of hiring your speaker. Agree on whether or not you will take questions, the time frame of the Q&A period, and whether or not the speaker will be available to meet individual audience members afterwards.
- Gather Questions in Advance. You can do this in the planning process, or by distributing notecards before the speech. If your program includes the emcee joining the speaker on stage, you might have them walk up with several questions in hand. These can be used to prime the audience, since it’s often difficult for people to be the first person to raise their hand.
- Give the Question and the Answer. At a presentation I gave in northern Indiana, I finished my speech, accepted some applause, and started the Q&A portion of the program. To kick things off, I explained that I was speaking to some members of the audience before the event began, and I restated the questions they had asked and then gave the answers.
- Use a Plant. If you have a colleague or a friend in the audience, give them a pre-written script of a question to ask. They will help inspire others to stand up, but will also ensure the first few questions are easy to answer.
All of these techniques can help make this portion of the program more memorable and more enjoyable for the audience. Consider these the next time you are hiring a speaker for your organization!