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Good for the Group vs. Good for the One?

Published on March 31, 2012, by in General Posts.

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…or the one.”  - Spock

Picture this.  You’re speaking to a group.  One listener asks a question.   You’re not sure the rest of the audience will be interested in the answer.  How do you handle this tactfully and get back on track?

This excellent question was posed by Amy in the comments on the last blog post.  It is something I’ve been asked by many others.  Most speakers and teachers appreciate the interest that audience members exhibit when asking questions so they want to reward that behavior, yet not take too much group time for information that might be very specific to only one individual’s circumstances.

When this happens, try these:

  1. Unless you are quite certain that no one else will have this same question, ask your audience, “How many of you are also wondering this?”
  2. If 1/3 or more of the group are curious, go ahead and answer throroughly for the whole group because it’s worth their time (needs of the many).
  3. If merely a handful are interested, give a brief answer and move on quickly (needs of the few).
  4. If the person who asked is the only one (needs of the one) OR the answer really varies widely depending on the situation, here’s an option for what you could say.

“Great question, Amy.  Let’s touch base after the session so I can find out a little more context, which will help me give you a more valuable answer.  So, when we’re thinking about ___ (fill in blank with topic prior to question)…”

This wording accomplishes:

  • complimenting the listener for being willing to participate
  • respecting the listener by wanting to give them increased attention & value vs. putting them off
  • moving immediately back into the flow for the rest of the group and yourself

Mostly, remember to be flattered, not flustered.  Questions, more often than not, indicate that you are engaging your listeners and of course, it’s all about them!

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