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Passion, People and Principles

Take Questions In the First 15 minutes

post # 351 — April 11, 2007 — a Careers, Client Relations post

As a follow up to yesterday’s posting on using an overhead projector, here’s another philosophy of mine on giving presentations (in small or large groups, standing up or sitting down.)

No matter how much you want to convey, you should always give your audience the chance to react and ask questions as soon as you have covered your first main point – no later than 15 minutes into your talk.

You should ask something like “Does that fit your world?” “Do you all agree with that?” “Is that what you are doing now?”

By asking for immediate response, you can ensure that you are both relevant and that you are bringing your audience along in your chain of reasoning. If you wait until you have given 4 or 5 steps in your reasoning, you could suddenly get a question about your first point and have to retrace all your steps – you’ll be scrambling to catch up.

And if you get a question that’s about something other than where you are going, either use it to bring you back to your theme, or ask permission to come back to it later.

Some speakers to do not follow the 15-minute rule, but I think that’s what makes them “speakers” rather than EDUCATORS. If you want the focus to be on you – give a speech. If you want to serve your audience – take questions – frequently and early.


Heidi Ehlers said:

Great insight, thank you, especially your closing line.

Also, the pause to really allow people to ask a question is important – instead of it being punctuation, then it’s sincere.

– heidi

posted on April 11, 2007

Wally Bock said:

As long as we’re discussing this topic, I have two questions for you, David.

1) Do you ever begin with an agenda-setting exercise that determines the details you’ll cover?

2) How do you use group exercises in your teaching?

posted on April 11, 2007

Coert Visser said:

True! In addition to that, good early question to ask are:

  • Is this useful to you?
  • Is this relevant to you?

Of course, after these initial questions you go on by asking how is it useful/relevant. Using these open questions is a great way to involve people very quickly in what you want to discuss.

posted on April 12, 2007

Ellen said:

I agree. Some of the audeince don’t have a great memory and speakers shouldn’t keep their questions waiting, otherwise it will slip off their minds. This way both the speaker and the audience have the benefit of staying with the flow.

posted on April 12, 2007



posted on April 12, 2007

Ted Harro said:


I observed a presentation by a consultant recently that illustrated a further nuance on your point. This consultant, who was actually quite an engaging speaker/facilitator and works for a very large IT consulting shop, was presenting his firm’s approach to strategy development to the IT executives at a large prospective client. He had a lot of slides to get through and started chugging through them. (Parenthetically, this is one of my pet peeves about Powerpoint – we think that because we have the slides, we have to get through them – which focuses us on our needs instead of the audience’s needs!)

Every now and then, he would stop and ask the group, “Is this making sense?” They (of course) nodded their heads. (To do otherwise might imply they didn’t understand IT strategy after all.)

Sitting in the back of the room, I puzzled about why he was getting little response from the group. He was energetic, clear, relevant. And I could sense he was looking for more response – more engagement! – from the audience.

Then it struck me. He was getting back from the group what his behavior dictated. He was telling and checking – “Here’s some information, does that make sense?” If he wanted interaction, he should have tried sharing and engaging. This looks more like sharing experience and points of view, then asking open-ended questions such as “How does this relate in your world? What from our point of view connects with your challenges here? What’s missing from our approach that you think you might need?”

So I agree – check in early and often. And I would add – the more you focus on sharing and using open-ended questions to draw out the audience, the more engagement you’ll get.

Assuming, of course, that we want audience participation:)

posted on April 12, 2007

Barb said:

You have a good point. I believe that it’s something every speaker must consider. I don’t know why some are waiting for the moment wherein they have to finish everything before the asking questions. They’ll be lucky if the audience remember their questions, otherwise they’ll just recieve a cold stare from the audience.

posted on April 13, 2007

Janet H. Moore said:


As you correctly noted, taking questions early in the presentation really does make all the difference. Speakers who do so can create rapport with their audience, especially if the questions are open-ended, as Ted Harro commented above. Another technique I use, time allowing, is to arrive early and meet some audience members one-on-one. It’s a great way to get some advance feedback about burning topics, and tailor my presentation to make it more relevant to the listeners.

posted on April 13, 2007

Draper Tool Chest said:

Yes, it is a good suggestion and I like to share here as here we will get some educational information.


posted on February 2, 2010