by Adam Noar
Like a good drama, presentation Q&A is often unpredictable and full of surprises.
With Q&A you need to be careful because it will either reinforce your message or undermine it. One bad move and you may lose the credibility you’ve worked hard to build as a presenter.
Many presenters are intimidated in this area. But who wouldn’t be? After all, you don’t know the questions that will be coming your way.
Q&A sessions are an essential part of your presentation because it allows for two-way dialogue and connect further with your audience. With a bit of preparation, you can leverage on the Q&A session to help elevate your talk and reinforce your credibility as a speaker.
To make sure your presentation Q&A sessions go well here are a few simple tips you can apply right away. Let’s begin.
1.) Set objectives
A good Q&A session is more than just the time slot your audience gets to ask random questions.
A Q&A session needs to have a clear objective that meets the goal at the end of the day. That means you have to be purposeful in the direction you want the Q&A to go.
If you happen to use a moderator or meeting coordinator (MC), a good one would hopefully be guiding your session to the desired direction easily.
2.) Hold a “behind the scenes” briefing session before the talk
It’s important that you brief everyone before your presentation so they are prepared which in turn, can provide the best experience for your audience.
Clarify any issues, questions or instructions from the people working behind the scenes such as stage managers and moderators before running through the event program so everything is in place and running smoothly.
3.) Dedicate enough time
Build in enough time when planning stages of your session.
Timing for a Q&A session depends on your set up. For example, if your presentation window is is 60 minutes then 45 minutes of presentation time and 15-20 minutes of Q&A is often appropriate.
Presenters often make the mistake of not giving enough time for Q&A. This compromises further engagement with the audience.
To further engage your audience and strengthen your credibility as a speaker, the Q&A session should match the length of the presentation. If you’re feeling extra bold you can even consider switching it the other way round where your presentation is short and sweet followed by a longer Q&A.
4.) Prepare questions beforehand
If you’ve followed the Panda Blog for a while you should know that it doesn’t hurt to over prepare – after all it’s the backbone of success.
To ensure you’re not caught off guard or flustered over the questions the audience may ask, think of a few to anticipate beforehand.
Write your anticipated questions down especially the tough or controversial ones before rehearsing your answer.
Run a mock session with your trusted and reliable colleagues, friends or family to ensure your answers are well thought of and don’t offend your audience. The evaluation and feedback given from the mock session is key to helping you improve as a speaker.
But, if there are a lack of questions asked during your presentation, don’t shy away from initiating first. Not only do you avoid awkward silences, it also helps to kick start the discussion and inspire more questions from the audience.
6.) Collect questions from your audience before and during your speech
Writing questions down from your audience is key.
This will help you plan how to address these questions. The moderator will be able to guide the session better.For the audience, they’re able to ask questions that truly matter instead of scrambling to think of one that may not be useful to them or you. It’s a win-win situation.
Note: If you are not able to write questions while presenting see if you can find someone else who can help. Another way to collect questions beforehand is using Slido – a polling tool where you or your audience can set questions or provide input via a mobile phone or any other device connected to the Internet.
7.) Use the right tools and equipment
Are you planning on having your audience ask their questions in-person, over the phone, via text, or all of the above? Either way, make sure that these tools are able to function with ease during the session itself.
If you’re making use of a microphone, ensure the volume of the microphone is loud enough that even the audience from the back are able to hear the questions asked loud and clear. If you’re facilitating the questions online, then make sure the Wi-Fi or internet is strong so you can receive their questions easily.
8.) Pause before answering
Sometimes you need to simply …
pause … and soak up the silence for a few key seconds.
It’s OK to think for a bit before answering a question. Sometimes, answering too quickly may make you seem defensive to the audience so it’s okay to take a few seconds to indulge the question. Not only that, answering instantly may wind up making you stumble over your answers which in turn makes them doubt your credibility. Worse, you may even make the mistake of answering nothing related in your haste.
Being silent can be very powerful. Here’s an example from presentation coach George Torok. Count how many times he takes a strategic pause throughout the 3-minute clip.
Although it may be awkward to pause due to the silence, your audience won’t think badly of it. In fact, they will appreciate that you took the time to process their questions. You’ll also look more genuine and authentic as a speaker – not a scripted, monotonous robot.
9.) Reduce filler words (“um”, “ok”, etc.)
Although not everyone is graced with speaking fluently in front of an audience, constantly saying ‘um’, ‘well’, ‘you know’ and ‘uh’ will do little to establish your credibility as a speaker. A few of these fillers here-and-there are fine but if you use them repetitively, they will become annoying to your audience.
As mentioned in tip #8, make it a habit to pause so you can gather your thoughts before you speak. Better to take a few seconds to speak in a cohesive manner than instantly speaking, stumbling over your words.
10.) Get straight to the point
Often times, speakers beat around the bush when answering questions during Q&A. It may or may not be intentional as there are other factors that can cause the speaker to answer the questions in a long-winded manner.
Listen first and then make your point quickly
For instance, they may not have listened closely or they may not have not known how to answer the question and decided to change the topic. Either way, it doesn’t matter. Beating around the bush will only compromise your credibility as a speaker.
So before you answer a question, make sure to listen carefully. Then, make sure to give a short and straight forward answer.
This brings me to my next point.
11.) Confirm that you’ve answered the question
After answering a question, always make sure you clarify if you have truly answered it. Throughout the Q&A session, make it a habit to ask if you’ve answered the question or if your answer was clear.
Asking for confirmation shows you care and that your audience needs are being met.
12.) Learn how to handle hostile questions
Most questions asked are not intended to hurt or bring malice upon the speaker.
But sometimes, we are faced with audience members who ask questions intended to make themselves look smarter, put the focus on them or, make the speaker look dumb and undermine their credibility.
Whatever the purpose is, there many ways to come out unscathed when handling a tough crowd. Despite so, always make sure to be the bigger person. Answer all their questions with professionalism and keep your emotions in check.
Quick tip: After you are done addressing the hostile question, put one hand out palm down. This will signal that you are done addressing the question and also not inviting further follow up from the person who asked the question.
13.) Ending the Q&A session
And we’re nearing the end! You’re almost done so make sure to end the session off strong.
Summarize in one or two short sentences the message of your talk and make sure to thank the audience for their time and attention – even if they were a tough audience.
Always be humbled by the audience’s presence even if the talk did not go as plan. This sincerity in turn, may keep your audience coming back for more – or at least leave a long-lasting impression on them.
Q&A is all about enhancing your audience’s learning experience after your presentation.
Make sure to put in the same amount of effort and dedication to planning and executing your presentation as well, and you’ll definitely have a presentation that people remember.
Do you have any presentation Q&A tips that were not covered in this article? Sound off in the comments below!