How do you stop and pull back from providing the solutions or the answers?

When you are presenting workshop content, and ask the audience a question, are you are greeted with dead silence?  Isn’t the silence deafening?!    Do you rush and try to fill in with an answer to cover the blank looks, deadened stares, or the outright “I wish this session were over” silence.   Now, what do you do? 

  • Should you attempt to cover the roaring silence?
  • Is there an alternate way to handle the silence?
  • Is there a way to prevent the silence?
  • Maybe ask the question(s) in a different method?
  • Was your question requiring only a “yes” or “no” response?
  • Is the question content within the audience’s realm of knowledge?


One solution is to “refrain from responding to everything”, according to the article “Effective Questioning Techniques, by Ray Rasmussen.

In a separate article entitled  “Practical Discussion Techniques for Instructors“, the author states that the wait time following the instructor’s question can be managed in several methods.  He suggests finding methods of reducing the discomfort for the audience or asking if the audience additional clarification or details.  Another suggestion is to present the question simultaneously in multiple formats – thus accommodating different adult learning styles.  

For example, while verbally asking the question, it could be replicated visually on the screen, whiteboard, or paper.

The white paper entitled “Principles of Adult Learning” suggests that lecturing to the audience should be kept to a minimum while utilizing a variety of training tools and techniques to keep the participant engaged and responsive. 

The complete article content is available here.

I have utilized several of these techniques during my corporate training sessions, but my “go-to” method is to “count internally 1-1000, 2-1000 until I reach 5-1000”.  This allows enough opportunity for someone to articulate thoughts, if desired, and gives me the opportunity to decide which alternate technique I will use to re-engage the audience.

My Favorite Technique to Regenerate Engagement 

One of my favorites, if time allows, is to take a 3-minute exercise to separate into groups with a marker and flip chart paper.  The goal is simply to write down anything that comes to mind related to the question/topic at hand. 

There are no wrong answers. 

The group that produces the most responses receives an extra 5-minute break, or something non-tangible yet appreciated.  My only focus of the exercise is to get everyone re-engaged and on-topic. It usually succeeds.

The good news is that over time, as professional trainers and learning consultants, you will develop a toolkit of questioning techniques and learning engagement methods that you can pivot “on a dime” when necessary to address the “moment of unintended silence”.