Answering Participant Questions In A Workshop

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By The Late Ron Bartlette

Two types of participant questions can be asked. The ones you know the answer to and the ones you don’t. How do you respond to each?

What if you know the answer to a question asked?

No problem, you go ahead and respond, right? Not so fast. That’s the quick and easy solution but is it the best? Not really! Many facilitators love Q and A sessions. They see it as an opportunity to show off their knowledge and insights. While others love to hear their own voice ramble. One way to deal with answerable questions is to do so. There are other ways to do the same thing and get better results and more people involved. 

People who ask questions quite often have thought about the question they’re asking and have an opinion. They could be seeing if the facilitator thinks like them or not. With that in mind, ask the person what they think about their question. Most often they will respond, and it provides the facilitator with insight about where they are coming from. If their answer is good, praise them. Secondly, you can direct the question asked to other participants for their input. This may open up a different perspective from the first response. All the better to have participants share and hear input they hadn’t considered. Also, the facilitator can pair participants up, talk about the question, and be prepared to share after 2 minutes. Letting the participants in on the Q and A session with their input will:

  •   increase overall participation
  •  let participants know they are valued for their experience and knowledge
  •  allow the facilitator to learn as well
  •  reduce the need for the facilitator to feel like they need to know everything all the time

What if you don’t know the answer to a question? 

When I‘ve asked this of trainers, workshop leaders, or presenters across Canada, the response they most often provide is, “I don’t know the answer to your question, but I will do some research and get back to you.” Sounds good and upfront, but there are other ways to address the situation that may be more effective and helpful for the questioner and the other participants.

As outlined above, for the questions you can answer, ask the questioner their own thoughts on their question first. Secondly, ask other participants for their input individually or in small groups. If nothing substantial has been shared, finally, I would state: “I can’t add anything more than what has been offered and would ask you (the questioner) to do some research and get back to me with what you find because I would like to know the answer as well.”

Picture of The Late Ron Barlette

The Late Ron Barlette


This year marks the third anniversary of the passing of Ron Bartlette, Executive Director and Founder of the Winnipeg Transition Centre.

Ron was humbled by the opportunities he was given to lead the organization, working with so many passionate, gifted staff and touching the lives of numerous participants.

His legacy and vision continues on through the various programs and services of the Winnipeg Transition Centre, where thousands in Manitoba and across Canada have received support and training and who in turn, will provide inspiration in their communities.

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