For some speakers Q&A sessions are like Russian Roulette, you never know when that deadly question is going to destroy your credibility so it’s important to have a strategy to use in the Q&A session.
By following these 9 tips you will excel in any Q & A session:
1. Listen. Listen carefully to the question so that you answer the actual question asked not the question you think was asked. If you don’t understand the question then restate the question and confirm with the questioner that you’ve understood the question.
2. Pause. Before you answer each question, pause for a moment. This will get the audience used to you pausing before answering a question so that when you get a tricky question, it won’t be obvious that you’re trying to think of an answer.
3. Be Honest, Don’t Bluff. If you don’t know an answer, say it, don’t try to make something up, the risk is that you’ll get caught out and lose credibility. You can offer to find out the answer or you can see if anyone else in the audience knows the answer.
4. Be Concise. Keep your answer short and to the point but don’t just answer with simply a “yes” or “no”, as it could sound dismissive, instead, explain quickly why the answer is yes or no.
5. Address the Whole Audience. Don’t just talk to the person who asked the question, give everyone in the room the answer. This is effective because there could others in the audience interested in the answer and also because it stops you from having a 1-to-1 conversation with the questioner and excluding the rest of the audience. As you give the answer to the audience, glance at the questioner from time to time to ensure that you’re answering them satisfactorily.
6. No Questions. At the beginning of a Q&A session sometimes the audience is shy about asking questions , no-one wants to be the first to speak or maybe to be seen asking a stupid question so the trick here is to ask the first question yourself and give the answer, this gets the audience thinking and will very likely prompt further questions. Say something like, “A question I’m often asked is….” Always have one or two questions prepared for this situation.
7. Reinforce your Message. If possible, use the audience’s questions to reinforce your message. Refer back to parts of your presentation, examples or facts and use them to back up your answer.
8. Time. Keep an eye on the time, while the audience will probably want to ask as many questions as they can, they will also want you to stay on time. The best way to do this is to have a Q&A section towards the end of the presentation and set a fixed amount of time for questions. If at the end of the Q&A session there are still people with questions then either ask the group for permission to extend the time of the presentation or be available to answer questions after the presentation.
9. Don’t end on Q&A. The risk with ending on Q&A is that the last question will be an awful question that you answer badly and that will be the final impression that the audience will have of you. Make sure to deliver or restate your conclusion and message after Q&A, by doing this you can control the last impression that you leave them with.
Remember Q&A sessions give you the chance to show the audience that you truly are someone who is an expert on your topic. So have fun!
image: UK Highways Agency (Flickr)