If you’re like many speakers, you view Q&A sessions in one of two ways:
1) You dread them, worried about being caught off guard, or
2) You breeze through them, thinking that the “real work” is behind you.
However, there’s no need for dread when you’re properly prepared. And remember, rushing through can be a missed opportunity to connect with your audience.
From the audience’s perspective, the Q&A can be the most valuable part of your presentation. It provides your listeners the opportunity to get their questions answered, learn more about the topic as it relates to their circumstances and to get clarification on a point they didn’t understand.
What’s in it for you? If managed well, the Q&A provides you the chance to better understand your audience and underscore your message in a way that is relevant and meaningful to your listeners.
Don’t skimp on preparation
You wouldn’t step up to speak without preparing for your presentation in advance, so don’t neglect preparing for the Q&A session as well. How? Talk to people, including members of your audience if possible. Find out what questions or concerns they may have about the topic. Carefully consider the range of questions you may receive and appropriate responses.
Having those conversations in advance will prepare you to listen openly to questions or comments in the moment during your presentation. And just as preparation helps calm your nerves about your speech, being prepared also helps eliminate worries about being tripped up by listeners’ questions.
Promote to prime your audience
To help your audience understand what to expect, go ahead and promote your Q&A before and during your presentation. Say something like, “We are going to have 15 minutes at the end of the presentation for your questions and I welcome your comments as well. Please jot down any thoughts you have so we can talk about them.”
Start off strong
The transition between your speech and your Q&A should be smooth . . . as if it is simply a continuation of a conversation. After concluding your remarks, acknowledge any applause gratefully and modestly, pausing briefly before introducing the Q&A.
When you begin, be sure to invite comments as well as questions. Keep in mind that while some listeners have a question to ask, others may have a valuable comment to make. Remember to ask for both. This simple gesture will boost participation.
As you solicit the first question or comment, look expectantly at your audience and be prepared to wait a few moments for that first hand to go up. While you wait, it is critical to maintain eye contact with a smile (or pleasant facial expression). If you drop your eyes for even a moment, it can be interpreted that you really don’t want anyone participate in the Q&A.
I like to count to 10 in my head while looking around the room; that’s usually enough time for people to gather their thoughts and work up the courage to speak up.
Encourage a shy audience
What if no one has a question? Sometimes you just need to give it a few more seconds; eventually the nervous energy in the room should be enough to get someone to raise his hand.
If not, you need to determine if there’s really no interest or if people just need a nudge to get started. Here a few ways you can encourage participation and get the Q&A off and running:
- Have a plant in the audience. If you suspect you’ll have a shy audience on your hands, you can ask a colleague in the audience to start off the Q&A with a question prepared in advance.
- Bring up a common question that you believe will be of interest to listeners, based on your past experience or your research about your audience.
- Take a poll. Ask the audience members to express their opinions or share experiences about an issue you addressed in your presentation.
Keep the conversation going
Now that your Q&A is off to a good start, build on the momentum of that first question or comment. Continue to look expectantly at your audience, asking for the “next question or comment, please!”
Hungry for more? Stay tuned for next week’s “8 Tips for Managing Your Q&A“.