Teaching Skills: audience questions

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Effective Presentations

The “How and When” of Handling Audience Questions

Providing the audience time to ask questions gives you an excellent opportunity to respond to any uncertainties they may have and help them mentally review and clarify the message you have presented. How you conduct the question period can often have a greater effect on your objectives than the balance of your presentation (Morrisey, Sechrest and Warman). The way in which you handle audience questions is a major source of your credibility, and signals your respect and care for the audience. Therefore, you must carefully plan how and when you will deal with questions.

Determine when you want to elicit questions. Options include:

  • Spontaneously during your presentation 
  • Following the presentation 
  • During the presentation, perhaps before breaks or after major points 
  • Just before your final summary 

Actively seek questions from the audience.

  • Assume that they will have questions and ask “What questions do you have?” .
  • Pause long enough so the audience will have time to think of questions.
  • Raise your hand as a visual signal for questions, and to help keep order.
  • Consider your body language when soliciting questions.

Carefully listen to the question being asked.

  • Watch the questioner to pick up clues to the intensity of the question and the feelings behind it.
  • Wait until the questioner has finished before responding.
  • Consider the learning style you are hearing in the questions. Should you respond with research data, a practical example or a metaphor?

Project an attitude of preparedness and responsiveness when answering questions.

  • Anticipate most of the questions you will receive and be prepared to answer them.
  • Approach questions as if your audience were paying you a compliment by showing their interest in your topic.
  • Clarify the question if it is lengthy, complicated or difficult to understand.
  • Repeat the question if you are not sure that the entire audience heard it.
  • Maintain the same style and demeanor you used in the presentation.
  • If you don’t know the answer, say so and offer to get back to them with a response.
  • When appropriate, involve the whole audience in the answer.
  • Employ the 25%-75% rule (Mandel, p. 3) by directing about 25% of your eye contact to the questioner and 75% to the rest of the audience.
  • Keep the exchange relevant and to the point—remember you are there to meet the needs of the entire audience, not just a single member.


Mandel, S. (1993). Effective Presentation Skills: A Practical Guide for Better Speaking. Ontario, Canada: Reid Publishing Ltd.

Morrisey, G.L., Sechrest, T.L., & Warman, W.B. (1997). Loud and Clear: How to Prepare and Deliver Effective Business and Technical Presentations. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc.


Adapted with permission from Soil and Water Conservation District Outreach: A Handbook for Program Development, Implementation and Evaluation. Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Soil and Water Conservation, 2003.