Guide on the Side - Questions: Your Answer to Great Presentations

By Marie Wallace, Published on April 1, 2002
Previous Articles by Marie Wallace

Marie Wallace has enjoyed a fulfilling career as a librarian, beginning in 1951 in academia with the University of California and transitioning in 1971 into the private law library world until her 1995 retirement from O'Melveny & Myers. She is the 1997 recipient of the American Association of Law Libraries' highest honor, the Marian Gould Gallagher Distinguished Service Award. Throughout her professional life, Marie has been a guiding force in the Southern California Association of Law Libraries, Practising Law Institute's programs for law librarians and Teaching Legal Research in Private Law Libraries (TRIPLL).

Today, Marie has commenced on a new path she terms "Life in Progress," which enables her to pursue a diversity of interests as a master swimmer, law librarian, trainer, storyboarder and designer of wearable art.  She continues to be a dynamic speaker and prolific writer on such topics as private law library management, presentations and training. She is a member of Toastmasters International and is active with the American Society for Training Development (ASTD) and in continuing education for private law librarians. She devotes her "free" time to various non-profit and civic activities.


Have you ever noticed that questions really add to some presentations while for others they seem to drag the energy down? Why? Preparation, thought and understanding of the purposes of questions make the difference. For instance, when a question and answer session is tacked on to a presentation as a pro forma afterthought, the audience senses that the presenter is not interested in interacting with them. As a result, the presenter is likely to encounter dead silence in response to the question "Any questions?" Now there are twenty minutes to fill and no plan, a very scary situation.

To get comfortable with Q&A sessions and questions generally, start weaving questions throughout your presentations. Learn to use them in the analysis, objectives, design, delivery and evaluation phases of your presentation design (see A Model for Training and Improving Performance). Questions are versatile and can serve many functions - get attention, stimulate interest, prompt feedback, make issues memorable, foster audience interaction, provoke thought.

Before the Presentation

Beginning the Presentation

During the Presentation

At the End of the Presentation

Recognize that there are really two closes to a presentation with a Q&A session. The first one is before taking questions.

"At this point, I want to get your opinion on this approach. This side of the room first."

The second close is after the questions to summarize the main points of your presentation.

"As you can see from the questions and comments, this topic is perplexing and we don't have all the answers but here is what you can do in the interim..."

Post Presentation

Sometimes the question period is so animated that questions cannot be covered in the time allotted. Announce post presentation ways to contact you and when and how you will respond. If you do this, convey a sincere openness to be contacted. Consider if there are ways to share these questions and answers with all members of the audience.

Strategies to Encourage Audience Questions

Helpful Hints