Useful Questions

Some smart person came up with the idea of ending a lecture with a question-and-answer session. In theory, this is a brilliant idea. In practice, however, this idea does not work effectively for the following reasons:

  1. All the participants are eager to go home; they don’t want to spend any more time listening to the speaker.
  2. The speaker has bored the participants long enough and they don’t want to continue the session.
  3. The participants are worried that their peers would hate them if they prolong the session with their questions.
  4. The participants’ brains are full and they want to give the brains a rest.
  5. The participants’ curiosity about the topic is satisfied: The speaker has removed all the suspense and surprise through the earlier presentation.
  6. People ask questions that are relevant only to them. The rest of the participants are not interested in these questions.

In an hour-long session, the lecturer usually limits the last 5 or 10 minutes for the question-and -answer session. How nice it would be if the time distribution were turned upside down and the speaker spent little time on the initial presentation and a lot more time in the question-and-answer session?

Useful Questions, the interactive lecture technique described below explores this possibility. This interactive lecture is particularly useful when you are a subject-matter expert on the training topic.


The facilitator briefly explains the principles and issues related to the training topic. Working in teams, the participants come up with useful questions related to the topic and incorporate them in a question-and-answer session. In the end, the participants identify the most useful question.


To enable the participants to take control the flow of a lecture by lengthening the time allocated to the question-and-answer session.


  • Minimum: 4
  • Maximum: Any number
  • Best: 15 to 30


30 minutes to 1 hour

Supplies and Equipment

  • Paper and pencil
  • Flip Chart
  • Felt-tipped market
  • Timer
  • Whistle


Organize the participants into teams. Seat each team around a table.

Introduce the topic. Give a lecture presentation defining and outlining the training topic. Discuss the key principles and issues related to the topic. Keep this introduction very brief, preferably less than 3 minutes.

Explain the concept of a useful question. Announce the end of the lecture and the beginning of the question-and-answer session. Encourage each participant to think of a useful question related to the training topic. Explain that this question should be of immediate practical value to most of the participants in the room. 

Write the questions. Ask the participants to work independently and write down one or more useful questions on a piece of paper. Pause for a suitable period of time.

Specify three questions. Ask the members of each team to share the questions they created individually. Tell the team to collaboratively select three questions that are the most useful ones.

Conduct the question-and-answer session. Select one of the teams randomly. Ask the spokesperson from this team to the most useful one of the three questions they selected earlier. Paraphrase the question and write it on a flip chart with number “1” in front of it. Give a brief and practical answer.

Repeat the procedure. Ask for questions from the other teams. Record the questions on the flip chart and number them in a sequential order. Give brief, practical responses to each question.

Identify the most useful question. After answering a suitable number of questions, ask the participants to review the list of questions on the flip chart. Ask each participant to work independently and write the number that corresponds to the most useful question on a piece of paper. Explain this constraint: No participant may select the question asked by his or her own team.

Announce the results. Ask a couple of volunteers to collect all the pieces of papers, sort them by the numbers, and identify the question that received the most votes. Congratulate the team that asked the question. Also identify the participant (or participants) who originally wrote this question and congratulate them.

Variations and Adjustment

Not enough time? Just answer two or three questions from the teams. Also, when identifying the most useful questions, ask the participants to raise their hands instead of the secret balloting.

You have ample time? Answer one question from each team. Continue by going around the teams, asking them for the second question in their list.

You are not a subject-matter expert? If you are unsure about your ability to correctly answer all of the questions from the participants, no problem. Work with a SME (subject-matter expert) on the training topic. Your role is to be the facilitator who takes care of the flow of the game and SME’s role is to give brief, practical answers to the useful questions from the teams.

Follow Up

Answer the leftover questions. At the end of the session, collect the remaining questions from the teams. Remove duplicates and organize the questions in a logical order. Write brief and practical answers to each question. Create a web page with these questions and answers or send them to the participants as an email attachment.

Game Sample

Recently, I worked with an expert in email marketing to make an interactive keynote presentation using this format. Here is the original brief presented by the expert:

Initial Presentation

During the previous decade, permission-based email marketing has emerged as the most effective channel. Before you rush into embracing this channel, you should review the latest studies in the field to ensure it is a good fit for your products and offerings. Then you have to determine the percentage of your overall marketing mix that should use this channel. Many privacy laws affect permission-based email marketing. You have to make sure that your strategy does not violate these laws. The next decision you have to make is whether to buy or build your own email system. This decision is constantly influenced by changes in the technology related to the way users receive emails through a wide variety of devices. You also need to decide whether to purchase or rent a list or to use your in-house list. An important element in email marketing is creating winning content. Before you send out the marketing piece you should conduct a test of alternative versions of your mailer.

Questions from the Participants

Here are some initial attempts from the participants to create useful questions:

  1. Where do we find objective research and case studies about email marketing?
  2. What exactly is permission-based email?
  3. I conduct training webinars. Will my services benefit from the type of email marketing that you are talking about?
  4. Can I use permission-based emails as my exclusive marketing strategy?
  5. How does the increased use of smart phone influence email marketing?
  6. What is an email system? Can we not use regular email?
  7. What is an opt-in system? Is it the same as permission-based email marketing?
  8. Is distributing a blog the same as email marketing?
  9. What is a good practical book about email marketing?

The Most Useful Question

One of the items in the list eventually emerged as the most useful question. I am not going to tell you which one it is. Can you guess?

Game Plan

The following table displays the structure of the Useful Questions interactive lecture:

Step If you are the presented, do this: If you are a participant, do this:
Organize teams. Form teams of the same size. Introduce yourself to the other members of your team.
Introduce the topic. Discuss the key principles and issues related to the training topic. Listen and take notes.
Explain a useful question. Ask the participants to think of questions of immediate practical value. Think of useful questions on the topic of the lecture.
Write the questions. Ask the participants to independently write down some useful questions. Write your questions on a piece of paper.
Select three questions. Ask the team members share the questions and select three. Work with your teammates to write down the three most useful questions.
Repeat the procedure. Ask for questions from the other teams. Answer them. Ask your question and listen to the answers.
Select the most useful question. Give instructions. Review the questions listed on the flip chart. Select the most useful question from the other teams.
Announce the results. Recognize the team that asked the most useful question. Also recognize the participant who wrote the question. Congratulate the team and the participant.

Reuse the Template

You can use the game plan for Useful Questions for designing other interactive lectures.

This lecture format is particularly useful when —

  • The participants have some knowledge of the topic that permits them to ask useful questions.
  • The participants can work collaboratively, share their ideas, and make decisions.
  • The facilitator is an expert in the topic and can provide accurate and up-to-date information.

Here are some training topics that we recently incorporated in this lecture format:

  • The revenue cycle
  • Taking care of your eyes
  • Family planning in Asian countries
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Australian politics