When you are making a presentation or giving a speech, it can be really helpful to check in with your audience about whether they’re understanding.
It’s also helpful to think carefully in advance about who your audience is and what it’s likely that they will already know, and what it’s likely that they will understand easily. But no presenter gets that right 100% of the time, so it’s also good to check in with your audience about what they are understanding.
Not every strategy for checking in works well. In particular: questions like “Does everyone know what this is?” or “Does everybody understand?” are usually not helpful. The problem is that these kinds of questions have an apparent right answer, along the lines of “yes, of course, please go on.”
These questions are often heard as “Do you understand, or are you too stupid to follow what I’m saying?” or “Do you know about this, or are you shamefully ignorant?” It’s not comfortable to say “No, I don’t know” or “No, I don’t understand.”
It is much more helpful to ask questions in a way that makes it clear that it’s ok not to understand.
Saying “Who knows what this is?” or “Would anyone like me to explain this?” or “Are there any questions so far?”
When you check understanding, it’s also important to pause to give people a chance to form questions. People can’t usually react immediately, so if you go on too fast, it can sound like “I don’t really want you to ask questions, I just feel like I should pretend to.”
tl;dr Checking in with your audience is great; asking “does everyone understand?” isn’t an effective way to check in because people are unlikely to feel comfortable saying “I don’t understand”.
I really like it when people don’t just ask if the others have questions, but say something along the lines of “Are there any questions, comments or thoughts on this?”
It helps me to bring up things where I think I know what is meant / how it works / what the connection is, but am not entirely sure. For some people, having questions equals “I don’t understand it, ergo I’m stupid”, whereas the other phrases give me more room to give myself credit on what I do understand.