Getting The Audience Involved

by Stephen Boyd | July 31, 2004

If the speaker asks enough questions, eventually the audience may warm up and respond. But how do you motivate them to answer questions from the beginning?

Begin with non-threatening, easily answered questions that require a physical response, such as questions that require only raising a hand to answer. You might ask how many people are from a state near where you are speaking, or how many have small children. Raise your hand when you ask for a show of hands and that will also encourage people to more easily respond.

Have a look of expectation when you ask a question: take a step away from the lectern and toward the audience. Pan as you ask the question. Make eye contact with as many people as you can. When possible, make audience members feel as though you are asking them in a personal way. They will then feel more obligated to respond.

As you move beyond yes and no questions, go from simple to complex. Perhaps include fill-in-the-blank questions next. Pause expectantly, looking at people directly. After they are in a responsive frame of mind, you can proceed to questions with more complicated answers.

Affirm any question you receive. Don’t intimidate an audience by evaluating questions with ‘That’s a great question." You’ve set the standard too high and may inhibit the audience from asking more questions because they may feel they can’t ask a "great question." Make everyone feel equal by saying, "Thanks for asking that question," or "I appreciate that question." You affirm without intimidating.

When you do get a question, look at everyone as you answer the question. All will feel included and will continue to be involved in the discussion.

Especially in informational presentations, getting audience members to answer questions is vital to knowing how well you are helping them understand.

About the Author

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.

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