FREE DOWNLOAD: 10 Tell-Tale Signs of Rookie Presenters (and how to avoid them)

What's Your First Question?

As creators and curators of content, we trainers (read: all terms associated with, including presenters, facilitators, performance professionals, learning advocates, instructors, teachers, keynote speakers, talent developers, subject matter experts, etc.) tend to amass a hefty toolkit of tips and tricks over the years – some by trial and error, some gleaned from others.

Recently, one of my contemporaries asked me on Twitter to contribute a tip. The one he shared, I thought, was brilliant, suggesting tiny reminder notes written in pencil on flip charts that only the facilitator can see. Not only does this ease the pressure on recall, it’s a better option than index cards which can find themselves out of order…on the floor.

I thought back to my first plunge at the podium in 1995. During that inaugural inexperience, I spoke matter-of-factly, stuck to the slated points, peered over the crowd to feign eye-contact, and moved efficiently from open to topic to topic to close. Tick, tick. I even finished early.

I was delighted to relinquish the stage and exhale.

A sense of relief married with satisfaction. A wee pat on the back for completing the task without looking the fool.

I had survived.

Truthfully, though, I was anxious to have that room full of faces gaze at something other than me.

I was unskilled in facilitating workshops and terrified that someone in the audience would ask me a question. I feared if they did ask, it would not only derail my rehearsed version, it would highlight my ignorance of not knowing the answer. 

Upon reading those post-workshop evaluations, however, I was struck by the unanimity of the ‘suggestions for improvement’ feedback.

Every single participant thought the seminar was valuable but not one missed the chance to offer a gentle nudge for me to slow down. My discomfort on stage was clear, and it manifested into a rapid-fire delivery.

I spoke entirely too fast.

I did not welcome questions.

One of my biggest hurdles in those early days was to let go of control. To loosen the agenda, drop the script and pass the mic over to the participants.

I learned immediately after that first workshop that learning is not about fire-hosing the audience; rather, it is about the slow-burning experience of the individuals. Participants may not wish to speak up or take on the role of facilitator, but they want to be afforded the time to absorb the information, to ask questions, to get involved in the learning, to engage with the content, and to apply the knowledge or, at least, critically reflect on real-world application.  

My response for a requested tip on Twitter: Ask participants, ‘What is your first question?’

Decades of experience has taught me that inviting questions (and meaning it) always leads to high engagement. Whether asking "What are your questions" or “What questions do you have?” or some other variation, the real gem here is to share the airtime and use The Artful Pause to provide adequate time for people to respond.

Open the floor to questions, bring the audience into the conversation and then follow their lead. Doing so not only increases their learning, it provides the space for the trainer to learn more as well, and perhaps add a nugget or two to their own toolkit. 


- Tisha Parker Kemp


We're delighted by your interest!

The Presentation Skills course is in development, but if you pop your email here, we'll be sure to reach out to you as soon as it is released!