Maintain control of the questions session—and your message—by following this simple yet highly effective approach.
The Question & Answer segment of a presentation often makes most speakers sweat. Of all possible presentation elements – opening, stories, demonstrations, closing – the Q&A has the tendency to be a low point in the presentation. As it’s usually near the end of the presentation, a poorly handled Q&A session leaves the audience with a negative impression of the presenter. Don’t let this happen to you.
“Does anyone have any questions for my answers?”
– Dr. Henry Kissinger -
One common fear that causes many presenters to dread Q&A is the fear of unknown question. This fear, like most, is unfounded as the reality is that the presenter controls of the situation. The audience can ask any question, but the presenter chooses how to respond.
In general, make your answers be brief and direct. Your responses should not be mini presentations. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger would begin his press conferences: “Does anyone have any questions for my answers?” As Dr. Kissinger’s quote suggests, be prepared with your answers in advance of their questions.
Here are 5 tips that will let you assume—and maintain—control of your next Q&A session.
1) Don’t end your presentation with Q&A. Although most presentations end with the Q&A, superior speakers don’t. Ending with Q&A could allow an off-topic question to drag you on a tangent away from your main message. The better strategy is to follow your Q&A session with a short closing that recaps your main message points. Regardless of the last question asked, ending with a brief recap will redirect attention back to your message. You get the final word as you deliver a lasting impression of your message.
2) Know the “top 10” questions of your audience. Regardless of your subject matter your audience will only ask a small range of questions in relation to your information. To learn these questions in advance, meet attendees before your presentation and ask them their top concerns about your information. The same questions, usually 8 – 10, will come up again and again as you present to different audiences. Learn the “top 10” questions for your presentation and be ready with succinct responses.
Video: Five tips to maintain control of your next Q&A session
3) Prepare fifteen responses to the “top 10” questions. Create a variety of ways to respond to your audience’s standard questions. This will give you flexibility when you respond. As you learn your audience’s primary questions, prepare responses that are brief and direct. Practice your delivery because how you answer a question is as important as what you say.
4) Repeat the question. Repeating the question ensures that everyone hears it. Professional presenters restate the question to get to the core issue. This requires that you listen to the question, summarize it, and then verify that your restatement addresses the questioner’s central concern. This technique allows you to strip away the extraneous parts of a question and go right to the heart of the inquiry.
5) Acknowledge when you don’t know the answer. Yes, at some point you’ll receive a question to which you don’t know the answer. It’s okay. Don’t fake an answer. You’ll lose credibility if you evade the question or give a false response. First, acknowledge that you don’t have an answer. Second, promise the questioner a follow-up response at a later time. You could also address the question to the audience for an immediate answer. As long as you’ve done well with the rest of your presentation, asking for assistance from the audience will display your confidence to handle the situation.
Q&A, like the other elements of your presentation, should be well practiced. Familiarity with your subject and audience will give you opportunities to learn the “top 10” questions in advance and prepare the best responses.
Apply the above information and fear not the raised questioner’s hand. In a short time, like Dr. Kissinger, you’ll have the answers even before they know the questions.