Questioning Techniques – which do you use?

 I like to start my media training lecture in my Public Relations class with the question that President Reagan’s Press Secretary used to open the Q&A period following his press conferences:

He would cheekily say to the media: “Do any of you have any questions for my responses?”

In my career, my role revolves around anticipating questions and preparing key messages to respond to the inquiries of media, stakeholder, and shareholder groups.

Thinking about “questioning techniques” is somewhat of a role-reversal. In fact, it brings me back to my days in Journalism school where we were taught many techniques for interviewing.

The one that sticks out for me the most is “to not be afraid of silence when asking questions.” It can be really awkward when one asks a question and there is silence. Our response as interviewees (and as instructors too) is to fill that void by talking, or asking another question.

Here are a few more interviewing strategies used by journalists that can also be used by instructors in the classroom:

  1. Treat the interviewee with respect. It is just as important to respect the students as they go through the learning process.
  2. Listen! It’s so important to listen as much as we talk, instead of thinking ahead to the lesson, or next teaching moment. Take time to be in the moment and really listen to the student’s responses.
  3. Maintain eye-contact and keep your body language in check. Students are looking to the instructor for encouragement & feedback. You may even try to mimic their body language. Make sure you are looking at them as they talk and not at your notes, the floor, or out the window.
  4. Don’t overload the interviewee with questions. Ask questions one at a time and allow opportunities to answer.
  5. Interviews should be conversational, not confrontational.
  6. Make them comfortable.
  7. Ask open-ended questions. Set them up for success by asking questions that will make the students think and give them great responses.
  8. Repeat the question in different ways.

Of the techniques suggested by my classmate Neelam, I will definitely use the ones in bold print:

Strategy 1: Pose the question first, before asking a student to respond.

Strategy 2: Allow plenty of “think time” by waiting at least 7-10 seconds before expecting students to respond.

I am getting comfortable with allowing students an amount of “think time” to ponder what I’ve asked. My tendency is to immediately fill the silence by asking another question; however, I will do my best to hold back for a little, allowing time for students to process a response.

Strategy 3: Make sure you give all students the opportunity to respond rather than relying on volunteers.

Strategy 4: Hold students accountable by expecting, requiring and facilitating their participation and contributions.

Some students won’t speak up in class simply because they are terrified of public speaking, or possibly scared that they don’t have the exact correct answers. That said, they are also in a Public Relations class where public speaking, and learning to think on your toes is part of the learning. I do my best to ensure that students have a chance to participate; however, I also try not to put anyone on the spot or make them feel too uncomfortable. This leads us nicely in to strategy 5.

Strategy 5: Establish a safe atmosphere for risk taking by guiding students in the process of learning from their mistakes.

It is absolutely imperative to me that students feel safe and encouraged to participate in discussions and respond to the questions while in my class, whether online or in a face-to-face environment. As a result, I always thank them for trying, and then add to what they’re saying if they have missed something, or said something incorrect.

Works referenced:

“30 Tips on How to Interview Like a Journalist.” Spark Minute RSS. 7 Nov. 2007. Web. 12 Feb. 2015. <;


About robincookbondy

My name is Robin Cook Bondy and I live in Ladner, BC with my husband and three sons. I am a communications and public relations professional pursuing further education in the area of adult learning.
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