Tip #167: Handling Participant Responses

It’s one thing to recognize the importance of engaging learners by drawing information from them rather than telling them. However, how long do you wait for them to answer? The silence can be deafening to a trainer on a tight time schedule. And what do you do if the learner’s answer is incorrect? How do you make sure the group gets the correct answer without embarrassing the participant who got the answer wrong?
Waiting for Participant Responses

1. If you ask “Are there any questions?” make sure that you look around to see if there are any questions.

2. If you ask a specific question, make sure that you give the participants sufficient time to respond. You may need to count to 10 slowly in your head.

3. If no one answers, sometimes I use humor to prompt a response: “I’m sorry, perhaps you thought that was a rhetorical question. Let me explain our process- I’ll ask a question and then YOU answer it!”

4. If a participant is only giving you a partial response, coach that person by asking questions that, through the examples, help the individual discover the rest of the answer.

5. Usually, someone will answer the question. If not, I’ll either rephrase the question or break it down into a simpler question.

6. If there are still no volunteers to answer the question, I’ll say “Okay, I’ll take pity on you. You must be tired.” or something to that effect, and then answer the question myself. The important thing is to later reconsider the question and make sure that the content leading up to the question has enabled the participants to answer it. We want to catch them doing things right and set them up for success.

Dignifying Incorrect Answers

1. Always dignify the participant and the answer. Never say, “No.” That will shut down learning and guarantee that no one will volunteer to answer any questions in the future! Instead, say, “Yes, that is correct if the circumstances are x. However, I am asking about these (different) circumstances. In this event, what would the answer be?” In other words, coach the person to discover the correct answer.

2. Another option is to take responsibility for any confusion on the part of the person answering the question. “You know, you have answered the question I asked, but I realize I didn’t ask the correct question. I apologize. Let me rephrase the question…”

3. It is also perfectly acceptable to let a poor, but not glaringly wrong answer, go by- if you feel that most of the participants know it is not completely correct. However, if it concerns a key concept, you must clarify it so that no one leaves confused. In this case, coach the person to the correct answer by saying” “That’s an interesting response. Let’s test it. ” Then ask questions to help the answerer discover the consequences of what has been proposed and realize those consequences would not be desirable.

This concludes our discussion of items to be included in a facilitator guide. Next week, we will discuss why facilitating interactive learning is so important.


This week we we begin a three-part discussion about why facilitating interactive learning is so important. Part one makes a distinction between interactive and experiential learning.

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