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Quite often at work, towards the end of a training session or staff briefing there will be an opportunity for any questions/queries to be answered.

No matter how interesting or engaging I find these, I can never think up any relevant/useful questions to ask; which I am concerned will make me look disinterested (generally the rest of the group will be quite vocal).

When watching others give presentations, how do you think of appropriate questions to ask? What sort of things do you look out for in a presentation that you can ask questions about? Are there any more generalised questions that can be applied to presentations about different topics?

closed as too broad by Arwen Undómiel, Anne Daunted, OneEyedBandit, Maxim, Connor Feb 20 '18 at 16:18

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 3
    In what setting are these presentations? Most people ask in the middle while the content is fresh rather than asking at the end. – Acumen Simulator Aug 4 '17 at 12:57
  • If you hear a presentation and everything is clear and no additional questions popped into your head, there is no need to ask anything. Asking questions is not a goal onto itself – Maxim Feb 20 '18 at 16:17
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Don't ask a question if you don't really mean it.

When a presenter has a question-and-answer period, they're probably not doing it for the sole purpose of determining who seems like they were listening more than anyone else. If the presenter simply wants to test people and see who was seemingly paying more attention (though questions are not necessarily correlation with attention), then they're not respecting those people who have real questions.

Respect goes the other way, though. If you ask a question for the sake of asking a question, you could take time away from someone else who genuinely needs a clarification, and if you're all crunched for time, that's not good.1 You've taken away someone else's opportunity. For that reason, I can't recommend asking a question if you don't actually have one.

There are other ways to stand out.

It seems that you're really just concerned with standing out. In that case, you don't have to ask a question at the end. The presenter may have left a few things incomplete along the way; asking for him or her to go over them can be truly helpful to the group.

I've done these before. Most arose in cases where I took notes (for academic purposes, if it was a class, or for personal curiosity). Notes let you look back and try to understand the presentation when all of this is over and done. That said, don't take notes if you can't pay attention at the same time! I once asked a decently stupid question because I had missed something the presenter said - because I was overzealously taking notes.

Some things you can do:

  • Did they skip a slide for reasons of time? Ask if they can go over to it. I've seen this happen in science presentations when the presenter didn't have time to explain a semi-related part of their work.
  • Are you unconvinced by an argument? Ask them to repeat it. If the presenter is trying to convince you of something (here I'm reminded of my philosophy class this past year, where we had to convince each other of every point), they need a strong argument.
  • Did they not elaborate on a facet or their presentation? Ask for them to explain it in more detail.

The above options are likely going to be helpful in some way to others. If the presenter's presentation isn't quite complete, your coworkers may also be wondering what was missed. Don't try and nitpick every little part of the presentation, but keep an eye out for major points of clarification.

Take notes as you go.

Recognize these chances when they come up. You're not going to be able to remember these ideas in a flash during a Q+A session at the end, and you run the risk of looking extremely stupid if you mess up (I mentioned that I made that error once). Write things down as the presenter goes over them. Take notes - in moderation.

Again, only ask this if you do want to ask questions. This applies to all questions, not just the sort of inquiries I gave above.

Can you talk to the presenter at the end?

If you want to stand out, this is an excellent way to do it. My college's physics and math departments do weekly or biweekly colloquia, where an outside speaker talks. I've had the chance before to talk to the presenter before, and it's pretty cool. In one case, the presenter was a candidate for an assistant professor. Whether or not they'll get the job is up in the air, but if they do, I'll have made a connection in the department with someone who studies something I think is awesome.

Obviously, don't be a nag or go up to the person when they're busy. I happened to just stop by to thank the presenter in this final case, and we got into a small conversation, which was cool - and lucky.


1 A friend of mine was in a related situation recently. In a large college class, a group of students was essentially monopolizing the question period by asking questions that demonstrated very little effort or critical thinking. They were essentially parroting back information from the professor, with some slight twists, and they were clearly doing this for the attention.

The rest of the class, quite simply, was annoyed. This group had turned the discussion in a completely unproductive direction when something constructive could have been gotten out of the question session. Keep this in mind; the questions you ask can affect the questions others have, and may derail more sincere discussions.

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I don't think that you absolutely must think of questions or be thought impolite, but as an occasional giver of presentations I'm always surprised if no one has any as it means either 1) I pitched the material too low and everyone totally understood or 2) I went way too deep and no one got it at all, or thought it irrelevant. You will struggle to apply training if it's not appropriate or used promptly

Without knowing your line of work it's hard to be specific in an answer, but (when in the role of attendee) I try to work out where I can use this information, and what problems I will face when I do (making notes as I go along). If I can foresee issues, then I ask about those as the speaker may have faced them already and so have valuable advice. Make your questions concise.

It also helps the speaker to give better presentations as they will be able to identify areas to include if they need to do the presentation again for another audience.

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In my experience, most questions are asked during the presentation either to clarify a concept, dive deeper into material, or even to dispute a claim.

Questions at the end of a presentation usually are asking something you expected the presenter to go over but they did not. An example would be that everyone agrees on the concept but how do we implement it? Or what will it cost?

0

If everything was clear to you and you really can't think of a question to ask, what would be the point of trying to come up with a generic way to create questions you don't need answered? If you have a real question, ask your question and carry on a conversation about it until you either clear up your confusion or decide to let the person answering you to move on. Continue after the presentation is over and everyone else has gotten a chance to ask questions, if neccesary.

Have you ever given talks (or presentations or taught a class or whatever)? If not, trust me when I say that it is usually pretty obvious when someone doesn't understand something. The look of bewilderment is unmistakable and obvious, before anyone ever asks anything and so is the look of someone asking a question for some reason other than having a real question about what is being presented. Pretending to be interested and asking questions, with the hope of being noticed will get you what you hope for but it won't be what you want. Feigning interest in what is not interesting to you only draws attention from people you would rather avoid.

If you are interested and need to ask a question to clear something up, great. If you have no real question to ask or the presentation was so boring that the person next to had a self inflicted wound from his broken coffee mug, no one else in the audience will be likely appreciate you extending the torture with a made up question.

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