Asking and Answering Questions
The two basic types of questions a trainer uses during a presentation are open-ended questions and closed questions.
Open-ended questions require an extended response. Below are some points to remember about open-ended questions.
- Open-ended questions result in more discussion of ideas, opinions, and feelings
- They most often begin with a "what," "how," "when," or "why"
- Requests may begin with a "discuss," "identify," "describe," or "analyze"
- This open-ended question works well - "What are your questions for me?"
- If students are slow to respond, say something like, "OK, this is the audience-participation portion of the program." If the right tone of voice is used, it gets a laugh and several answers.
Closed questions require only a one word "yes" or "no" or other short answer. Below are some points to remember about closed questions.
- This type of questioning closes off discussion.
- Usually begins with "is, are, do, does, can, or will"
- This closed-ended question doesn't work - "Are there any questions?" You will usually get dead silence.
Asking students open-ended questions will result in the most information and result in a more interesting presentation. You can always "piggy-back" off the student responses with more questions.
Relying on closed questions will result only in a series of short responses like "yes, no, maybe, and occasionally I-don't-know." You can see that these responses won't give you a lot of information.
I have found that the training will usually be more boring to the students as well.
Listening to Questions
Listening makes students feel more appreciated and respected. Active listening also fosters the good listening skills in your students by serving as a model for positive and effective communication.
One way to understand active listening is related to the Golden Rule. Listen to others as you would want them to listen to you. With that in mind, here's what works for good listeners.
10 Tips to Effective Listening Skills
- Face the speaker: Sit up straight or lean forward slightly while standing to show your attentiveness through body language.
- Maintain eye contact: Make direct eye contact to the degree that you all remain comfortable.
- Minimize external distractions: Turn off the TV. Put down your book or magazine, and ask the speaker and other listeners to do the same.
- Respond appropriately to show that you understand: Use non-verbal cues like nodding your head in agreement, raising your eyebrows, etc. Use verbal cues like ("uh-huh" and "um-hmm"). Say words such as "Really" or "Interesting." Repeat the question in your own words to show you understand.
- Focus solely on what the speaker is saying: Try not to think about what you are going to say next. The conversation will follow a logical flow after the speaker makes her point.
- Minimize internal distractions: Research shows that, on average, we can hear four times faster than we can talk. So it's easy to formulate our answer to what we "think" the question is going to be before we actually hear it. Don't interrupt while the student is asking the question (this is one of my biggest challenges). This is a sign that you're actually thinking about the answer before the student finishes the question.
- Keep an open mind: It's not what is "right" or "wrong" that is important... it's "what works" vs. "what doesn't work" that matters. Don't judge the question or the student. Wait until the speaker is finished before deciding whether to agree or not. Don't make assumptions about the student's motives.
- Move toward the student: Initially move toward the student a little while the question is being asked. This signals a desire to hear and understand the student. It also sends the message that you are focusing on the question.
- Don't get defensive: We usually get "defensive" in tone and word when we think someone else has been "offensive." Wait until the student finishes to defend yourself if you feel the need to do so. Try not to take any negative question or remark personally.
- Engage yourself: Ask the student questions to clarify in your own mind what is being asked. Repeat the question so the rest of the audience can hear it. Rephrase the question if you are not clear what is being asked. "Let me see if I understand your question..."
Answering questions in an appropriate and thoughtful manner is critical to a successful training session. Make sure you answer all questions presented. The worst thing you could do as a trainer is to
ignore the question or minimize the question's importance. To do so sends very negative messages to your students.
- Repeat the question: Paraphrase or repeat back the question so the entire class can hear it before you answer it. This also helps to ensure that you understand the question.
Initially focus on the person who asked the question and then shift eye contact to the general audience.
- Answer clearly: Don't turn the answer into a general lecture. Try to make sure your answer is brief, clear, and specific.
- Commend the student: It takes courage sometimes to ask a question in front of others. When a student asks a question, compliment it with "That's a great question" or
"I'm glad you asked that."
- Be sincere: Make sure you answer students questions sincerely. Your students will usually know when your response isn't genuine.
- Be Honest: If you don't know the answer to a question, let the student know that you will find out and respond later. You can always ask if one of the other students might know the
answer to the question. Remember, you don't need to be the fountain-of-all-knowledge!
- Get back to the student: Finish up your answer by transitioning back to the student who asked the question.
- Get feedback: Ask the student if you answered the question and if the answer was helpful. A positive response from the student gives you permission to move on to the next topic or question.