Michael Sandel: The lost art of democratic debate


Published in Tips - 14 November 2011

We all want to make our audiences feel comfortable, and we often say “Please feel free to interrupt me if you have any questions” as one way of putting them at ease. But is it always the right thing to do?

The answer is no, not always. It is sometimes in the best interest of both the audience and the speaker for questions to be held until the end of the presentation. For example, if your presentation contains complex material that will become clear as the presentation progresses, early questions can actually confuse the audience, and you may find yourself saying, “I’ll come to that later in the presentation,” which can make the person asking the question wonder why you told them they should ask questions at any time. We might also want our audience to hold questions when the subject matter is controversial or provocative. An audience with many questions can sometimes prevent the speaker from delivering important information. On the other hand, allowing questions at any time can create interaction between the speaker and the audience, often making presentations much more interesting for everyone involved.

The key is to decide when questions will be most appropriate in your presentation…then let the audience know. Below is a video where the speaker explains, in the beginning of the presentation, where he wants audience participation.

If you want to learn more about effectively managing question and answer sessions, enroll in our GET A YES course on persuasion skills.