If you’ve been following our series on Q&A over the past 3 weeks, you understand the importance of getting ready for your Q&A by researching the questions you’re likely to hear and preparing your answers. Doing so primes you to truly connect with your listeners and provide more meaningful responses. You’ve also learned how to manage the dynamics of the room and communicate efficiently and effectively. So far, so good.
But what happens after you get through that last question, or when time runs out? How do you wrap it up in a way that ensures the audience takes away the desired message?
There’s a great deal of planning and preparation required to get ready for a presentation. Just as you prepared for every other aspect of your speech and Q&A, you also need to prepare in advance for the closing.
Manage time to manage expectations
More often than not, speakers don’t intentionally wrap up their Q&A… they just run out of time. How often have you attended a presentation that ended with: “Well, we’re out of time, so thank you very much for coming. Good night!”
We’re so accustomed to this behavior that we accept it as normal, just like we accept distracting slideshows filled with dense paragraphs in 10 point type. It’s what we typically experience, but wrapping up your presentation this way is a missed opportunity to end strong and make your message memorable.
It’s much more effective to plan for and close your Q&A in a way that shows respect for your audience. How can you do that? By managing time, so your audience can manage their expectations.
Start by keeping an eye on the time and sharing that information appropriately with your listeners. Let people know where you are and where you are going. As you kick off the Q&A, tell your audience how much time you have to respond to questions and comments. When you’re about 75% of the way through, let people know how much time is remaining. Say something like, “We have about 3 minutes left; time for one or two more questions.”
Doing this helps your audience anticipate what’s coming and respond accordingly. For example, if you say you have time for one more question and there are still 10 hands in the air, a listener will realize that you won’t be able to get to her question. She can then decide to write it down and email it to you later. You establish a level of trust with your listeners when you tell them what you’re going to do and you follow through.
Quit while you’re ahead
Even if you’re not under a time constraint, you don’t want to keep the Q&A going on too long. The purpose of Q&A is to have a brief, shared interaction with your listeners, not to give another entire presentation. It’s much better to end with questions unanswered than to “milk the audience dry.”
Anticipate the wind up. Keep an eye on the time, and as either time or interest seems to be running out announce, “We have time for one more question or comment. Whose will it be?”
End smartly with a closing statement
If you conclude your presentation with a quick “good night” following the final question or comment, you’re actually ending on someone else’s word. That person’s comment may not meet your goal and won’t serve you as the speaker.
Instead, be prepared with a summary statement that wraps up your essential message. It shouldn’t be long; 30 seconds or so is enough. You can focus on any of the following:
- A theme that emerged during the Q&A discussion.
- A summary of your core message.
- A call-to-action that inspires your listeners to respond by doing something.
Your closing statement is like a haymaker in a boxing match- it’s the knockout punch that drives your message home and ensures it has the desired impact on your audience.
Love it, leverage it, learn from it!
Taking a few minutes to receive and respond to listeners’ questions and insights is a win-win! In addition to providing listeners with information they want or need, you’ll gain a much deeper understanding of your audience and may learn something new yourself!