Tip #32: Manage untimely questions

There are three categories of untimely questions: (1) questions about content that will be covered in the next few minutes; (2) questions about content that has not yet been covered, but will be handled later in the lesson; and (3) questions about content that will not be covered during the lesson.

In all cases, you may want to defer answering the questions to another time. Especially when you have a group with varying degrees of expertise and experience, you may have participants who ask questions about content that has not yet been covered. You may want to hold off answering it until you get to that point in the lesson. If you answer the question before you have laid the learning groundwork for the other participants, you may unnecessarily confuse them.

If the content is not part of the lesson, you may defer the question to a time when you can discuss the answer privately with the participant (during a break or lunch, or after the workshop). You want to avoid spending workshop time on an issue that is not relevant to the larger group or the content of the lesson.

Most individuals will be happy to accept your acknowledgment that they have an advanced understanding of the topic and will agree to wait for an answer. If the participant needs an answer immediately, you may want to provide it without explanation and mention to the larger group that you will review it again later in the day.

You can frequently forestall untimely questions by giving participants scheduled options for getting them addressed. This will be particularly useful if you have folks who feel compelled to ask questions as soon as they occur to them, because they are afraid they will forget them.

Three simple techniques you can use:

  1. Begin the session by asking for participant questions and concerns, then post them on a flipchart and indicate when they will be answered during the lesson.As the topic is covered and the answer is given or discovered by the group, you can refer back to the question and check it off to indicate it has been answered. Or you can wait until the end of the session and check to make sure all posted questions have been answered to the participants’ satisfaction.
  2. During the workshop introduction, you can designate a flip chart as a “parking lot” for their questions. The flip chart should have space blocked out and titled for each general topic.Provide large post-it notes at their tables, so that the participants can jot down their questions and place them in the appropriate spot on the flip chart. You can use the “parking lot” approach at the very beginning of the session for a faster way to get their questions posted than in suggestion #1.

    Make sure to check the “parking lot” and incorporate the questions into the lesson or exercises where they belong.

  3. Schedule a Question and Answer (Q & A) time at the end of each module or at specific times during the day. Let the participants know about these Q & A sessions, and give them post-it notes or index cards to jot down their questions. Ask them to hold their questions until the Q & A.

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