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Westside Toastmasters is located in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, California

Chapter 13: Professional Secrets of Question-and-Answer Sessions

Overview

More trouble is caused in the world by indiscreet answers than by indiscreet questions.

—Sydney Harris

A professor at Columbia University's Teachers College once gave me this humorous but accurate advice: "In every class you will have a student eager to argue, who will ask a lot of questions. Your first impulse will be to silence that pupil, but I strongly advise you to think carefully before doing so—that kid may be the only one listening."

Few speakers would say the question-and-answer period is the best, or most enjoyable, part of their speech. On the contrary, even some of the best speakers panic when it's time for the audience to talk back. They view question-and-answer periods as barriers looming between the presentation itself and applause and acceptance. But these sessions are proof your audience is involved and interested. In fact, Bill Lee, former chairman of Duke Power Company (now Duke Energy), has given speeches just to engage in a question-and-answer session, because it lets him get his audience involved.

Those few minutes at the end of a speech let you fill in gaps, emphasize certain ideas, and clear up misunderstandings. And the details you go back over and clarify are chosen by the people you are trying to persuade. It's participation, not confrontation. The active give-and-take of a question period yanks your audience out of that passive state known as listening. And you benefit—if you're prepared.


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