The main difference between a speech or a lecture and a dialogue is that public speaking is largely a one-way communication – the speaker speaks, and the audience listens. Nevertheless, sometimes the audience does get involved: It can be an involvement invited by the speaker (e.g. by asking “any questions?”) or it may be forced upon him (such as when a superior interrupts a presentation to clarify a point). Either way, audience involovement is a rather common phenomenon in many cultures and a successful public speaker has to be able to use it to his advantage.
The goals of audience involvement
Questions and ‘points of information’ can be very influential both for the speaker and for the audience. Interestingly, speakers with stage fright often find that once a question has been asked, the remainder of the speech is much less stressful. Therefore I often encourage people who are afraid of to get their audience involved
Goals for speaker
Goals for Audience
How to time questions from the audience
Timing is crucial for successful management of questions, as it allows you to retain and project control and thus rather than diminish it can enhance style.
The Golden Rule – Answer Questions Between Arguments
- It is less disruptive to you
Because you don’t stop in mid sentence, and also because you don’t have to remember to which point you have to return.
- It is less disruptive to the audience
The audience will not always remember where you left off, and won’t necessarily return to the flow.
- It emphasizes your structure
It puts a definitive barrier between the two arguments. In effect, the questions become flag-posts.
- It closes the argument
It helps verify that the audience understood your point entirely, and it projects the closure – that if no further questions are asked then the subject is closed.
- It project organization and control – it emphasizes your control, and that you take questions at your will and others’.
This golden rule leads to several corollaries
- Do not accept questions during introduction
This is the most sensitive phase of your speech in which the audience needs to understand the general outlines of the speech. Disruptions at this stage will obfuscate the big pictures. Besides, you haven’t started yet, what have they got to ask?
- Do not Accept questions in the Conclusion
This is another sensitive phase, because this is where you re-organize the speech and give the audience last chance to catch up. Besides, why are the asking now, they had the whole speech to ask…
- Do not accept questions in mid-sentence
It projects insecurity and lack of control, as the questions’ timing is dictated by the audience not you. It may make you lose concentration and it will deffinitley make your audience lose concentration of the argument (though it may raise overall concentration).