5 tips to maintain control of your next Q&A session

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.

Dr. Henry Kissinger & Charles Greene III

“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.

To receive weekly tips on presentations skills, connect with Charles Greene III on LinkedIn or Twitter (@CharlesGreene3).  For more presentations tips, visit his weekly presentation tips page.

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2014 Summer Presentation Skills Reading List


Bethany Beach Welcome SignIt’s summertime in the Northern Hemisphere. The daylight hours are longer. The temps are warmer. I’m a happier camper. I’m writing this post while in Bethany Beach, DE. The Greene family is here hanging out with friends for a couple weeks. After the beach there’s a quick trip to Nashville, TN, for presentations with American Express. To end the summer there’s the annual trek to upper Minnesota to join the family at the lakeside cabin near Hackensack, MN.

The spring was filled with lots of flights so I had some extra time for reading. Here are three standout books on presentation skills that I’m recommending for my 2014 Summer Presentation Skills Reading List.  Read all and you’ll be a better speaker by the Tuesday after Labor Day. This year’s selections provide excellent information for seasoned speakers who want to take speaking to a more professional level. Regardless of your level of speaking ability, you’ll find great advice and tips in all three of these books.

Video: 2014 Summer Presentation Skills Reading List

2014 Summer Presentation Skills Reading List

1) The Message of You by Judy Carter

2) Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo

3) Smart Talk by Lisa B. Marshall

For bonus points and a gold star, read these three books and one additional book from a  previous Summer Presentation Skills Readings List.  Have an amazing summer filled with good friends, good food, and good times.

Previous Summer Presentation Skills Reading Lists
2013: The Naked Presenter by Garr Reynolds; Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun; Paid to Speak from the National Speakers Association

2012: Presentations in Action by Jerry Weissman; Boring to Bravo by Kristin Arnold: Mastery by George Leonard

2011: Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds; Resonate by Nancy Duarte; The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo

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Preparation – Magic Key #2 for presentation success

Preparation — A successful presentation involves preparation of your core message and its supporting elements.  Even if you know a subject well, your investment in preparation will pay off by having your core message remembered more easily. Just as a jeweler polishes a stone to make it brilliant, preparation helps polish your presentation.  Here are three phases of presentation preparation.

  • Define your message – Make it simple and clear
  • Frame your message – Provide a story structure
  • Refine your message – Edit and use only the essential elements

1) Define your message – Make it simple and clear
Have you ever listened to speaker and, at the conclusion, realized you didn’t know the point of the presentation?  Maybe there was one, but it wasn’t clearly stated.  Don’t let this happen to you.

Make sure that you clearly understand your message and can convey it in a simple and clear statement.  Sum up your presentation in one sentence.  This clear statement will guide you as you select an appropriate framework for your message.

Your conclusion is as essential as your entire message.   As you start to prepare your presentation, you should also have a decisive conclusion in mind.  Know what you want your audience to do with the your information.

Here are some examples of clear messages and desired outcomes…

  • Stocks are devalued. Now is a great time to invest.  Buy stock.
  • An electric car will save you money and help the environment.  Buy an electric car. 
  • Paris has many wonderful things to experience.  Visit Paris. 
  • Montessori is a superior method of education.  Enroll your child in a Montessori school. 

Once you have established a clear message and a desired outcome you can move onto the next phase.






2) Frame your message – Provide a story structure

Presentations should contain the basic elements of story structure with a beginning, middle and a conclusive end.  This familiar three part format will ensure that your message stays on track.

One time tested structure that works is the “tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you’ve just told them” format.  Structures place limits on the speaker, but it’s these limits that help to create an efficient presentation.  This format forces the presenter to know what message points to present.  Another reason why this structure works so well is that it relies heavily on repetition.  People generally give greater importance to something that is repeated.  This repetition aids in making the message points more memorable.

Although classic and familiar, the above framing structure is far from the only viable one.  Other story framing structures for presentations include: “What is” vs. “What could be.”  (Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream”); Love story (Corporate merger of former rival companies – ATT & T-Mobile); Journey/Odyssey (Facebook); Rags to riches – (Apple/Lady Gaga/Starbucks)

Regardless of what structure you chose, at the end our your presentation, your audience should be given an action to accomplish, some application for your information. Regardless of whether or not they act upon what they hear, they will have been given the option to enter into a new state of being – having a better retirement plan, a more fuel efficient car, or savoring the pleasures of April in Paris.

3) Refine your message – Edit and use only the essential elements
In the final phase you’ll take out the weakest elements. Items that appear perfect in the layout of the presentation don’t always work when spoken aloud or in relation to the other elements.  Take them out.

After setting your message and choosing an appropriate structure, you will add stories, quotes, data, charts, etc. to flesh out your message.  Before your presentation becomes a Frankenstein’s monster, your job, perhaps your toughest job, is to remove the items that don’t fully support your core message.   You want to have the fewest elements that give the strongest support to your main message.

Very few masterpieces are created in the first draft.  Every great writer gets edited.  All diamonds were once chunks of coal.  Like sculpture, novels, and diamonds, presentations are best after they’ve been honed, polished, and refined.

You’ve just learned the three elements needed to properly prepare your presentation:

  • Know your message – Make it simple and clear
  • Frame your message – Provide a story structure
  • Refine your message – Edit and use only the essential elements

By the way, this posting was written in the structure of “tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you’ve just told them” format.

Summary: These three elements will help you deliver a clear and memorable presentation message.  Apply these three elements and your next presentation will be a work of art.

Let me know your thoughts.  What methods have you used to prepare your presentations?  Leave a comment about your preparation experiences and suggestions.

“Preparation” is the second part of Charles’ “Three Magic Keys to Successful Presentations.”  The first in “Audience.” In an upcoming post, Charles will discuss the last magic key, “Practice.

Charles Greene III Presentation Magician

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Audience – Magic Key #1 for Presentation Success

Audience – Woody Allen said that 80% of success is showing up.  In public speaking, I believe that 80% of presentation success is meeting your audience’s expectations.  Address their concerns when you present and they’ll give you high marks as a great speaker.

All audiences want your presentation to focus on their needs.  Nancy Duarte exhorts, “Realize that you’re not the hero of your presentation. Your audience is the hero of your idea.”   An audience changes everything.  They define your words.  They frame your images.  They set your worth.  They are the final judge of your success.   

Without an audience, your words become a mere recitation of information, facts and stories.  The audience IS the reason for your appearance.   Perhaps Stephen Soundheim most aptly put it when he said, “When the audience comes in, it changes the temperature of what you’ve written.”

Audience: Magic Key #1 for Presentation Success
Video: Know, meet, & engage

Know, Meet, & Engage Your Audience

1) Know your audience
Find out who they are on as many levels as you possibly can.  The more information you learn about them the more you can address their concerns.  Talk to the person who is bringing you in to speak and do the following:

  • Ask about the top concerns of the group.
  • Find out if the group is facing unique challenges.
  • See if anything has recently changed in the lives of your audience.
  • Consider if your audience is at the beginning, middle or end of a life experience, work, school, parenthood, etc.
  • Learn why they are coming to hear you speak.

Customize your presentation with this information.  Make your presentation audience specific.

2) Meet your audience
Every presenter wants to address a friendly face.  Meet with your audience members before you present.  Create connections with people.  Let them see you not as “the speaker,” but as a person whom they hope will succeed.  Meeting people before you speak means that when you present you’ll see new friends.  This can go a long way to putting you at ease and making your presentation more conversational.

  • Meet your audience before taking the stage.  Show up early to meet and mingle with them before your formal presentation.
  • Connect with people on an individual basis.  Ask for their personal feelings about your topic.  Their responses might provide you with some last minute insight into that particular group.
  • Stay late.  Take questions from the audience.  Find out what part of your message meant the most to them.  Their insight is very valuable.

Charles Greene III Presenting Audience Magic Key #1

3) Engage your audience
To captivate attention while you speak, you must engage them on a variety of levels.

Multi-level engagement of your audience requires variety: facial, spatial, and vocal.

  • Eyes: Look directly at people.  In a small room, attempt to look at everyone during your presentation.  In a large room, select a few friendly people in different parts of the room and have conversations with them.
  • Feet: Get close to your audience.  Leave the lectern.  Come down from the podium.  Move around your space.  Don’t pace, but use the space to walk to different points while holding the gaze of one person as you walk towards them. 
  • Voice: Vary your vocal pitch and pace during your presentation.  Add pauses at appropriate moments to create tension or emphasis.  Imagine your voice being the sole method of engaging and holding your audience’s attention.  Think radio. Pausing and lowering your tone will literally draw an audience closer to you.

Finally, engage your audience with passion.  Be “on” when you present.  An audience will forgive many things if you give them your story, straight from the heart, with passion.  Passion is not the icing on the cake.  It is the cake. This passion does not need to be shown a la Tony Robbins style, but there should be some spark, some magic, to your presence. Passion makes your message come alive and directly connects you with the audience.

Summary:  For a successful presentation, you must meet your audience’s needs and expectations.

Recommended reading:  John C. Maxwell’s “Everyone Communicates, Few Connect
Charles’ Presentation Magazine article “Holding an Audience’s Attention for 20 Minutes (or More).

Let me know your thoughts.  Leave a comment.  What methods do you use to connect with your audiences?

Audience is the first part of Charles’ “Three Magic Keys to Successful Presentations.”  In upcoming posts, Charles will be discussing the other two magic keys, preparation & practice.

Charles Greene III Presentation Magician
Washington, DC
Twitter: @CharlesGreene3

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A New You – Six Options for Better Presentation Skills in 2014

Begin anew today – Most people view the start of a new year as the perfect time to jolt their lives with commitments to new endeavors.  Of course, new beginnings are possible every minute of any day.  It’s just that January, with its delivery of a new year, seems so right as the time to begin something new.  Let the genesis of this year grant you an opportunity to become a better presenter.  Say, “In 2014 I’ll improve my speaking and presentation skills by doing  (Blank).”  Need a suggestion?  You can fill in the blank with one of the following six options:

1) Embody the words of Garr Reynolds:  Garr Reynolds has three books on presenting.  Buy all three.  Read all three.  Apply his words to your presentations.  Garr has a Zen manner of presenting from which most speakers could benefit.  Novice presenters will develop better presentation skills faster.  Seasoned presenters will learn how to present with less effort.

2) Take a class on acting or improvisation:  The ability to “think on your feet” is crucial to presenters.  It’s a skill that’s best learned off stage.  Find a local theatre or improv group and take lessons.  Explore the basic elements of theatre.  Learn how to use your voice more effectively.  Embrace the theatrical nature of presenting.  Practice these skills (Yes, you can practice improvisation.) and you’ll be more competent and capable during future presentations.

Watch your 6 options for better presentation skills.

Become a better speaker in 2014.

3) Accept all public speaking opportunities: Speak more often.  Take every chance, big and small, to stand in front of an audience and deliver a message.  Be the person who is willing to speak for your company, association, or cause.  Actual face-time is the only way to improve your public speaking skills.  Use short talks to try something different.  Use long presentations, 20 – 40 minutes, to work on one particular skill, e.g., speaking more clearly, having more eye contact with your audience, or using fewer speaker notes.

4) Present naked: Naked presenting is presenting without slides.  Too many speakers hide behind their slide deck.  They’re afraid to present without brightly lit visuals.  Don’t fall into that trap.  Leave your slide deck at the office.  Create deeper connections with your audience by always facing them, instead of looking at your projected slides.

5) Let the audience evaluate your presentation:  Use evaluations cards at every presentation.  You’ll quickly learn what your audience really thinks about your presentation skills.  Did you start off strong?  Was there enough time for Q & A?  Did you end with a bang or a whimper?  Use a simple evaluation card to find out.  Then, make adjustments based on the responses from your audience.  Their comments will let you view your presentation from the best judges, your audience. 

6) Video your presentations:  See the reality of your speaking style.  Watching yourself present is the only way to know what you really say and do while in front of an audience.  Today’s mobile devices make it easy.  Just place your recording device on a stable surface.  Let it record as you present.  Review your video several times, with sound on and with the sound off.  Take notes and zone in on the areas that need improvement. 

Now it’s up to you.  Some of the options are more daunting than others.  Reading Garr Reynolds is easy, but presenting without slides might be more challenging.  Great beginnings should take you out of your comfort zone.  Be bold.  Do something different.  The key is to take action.  As for timing?  Begin something new today.  Start now.  Make a commitment to improving your presentations skills.  Don’t make 2014 just another year.  Make it a great year.

Receive weekly tips on presentations skills: Connect with Charles on LinkedIn or Twitter (@CharlesGreene3).  For his archive of presentations tips, visit his weekly presentation tips page.

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Pecha Kucha: 5 Steps to excellence

Pecha Kucha.  Never heard of it?  It’s a simple presentation structure: 20 slides every 20 seconds (20 x 20).  The slides auto advance.  Once the first slide appears, the presentation does not end until the last slide leaves 6 minutes and 40 seconds later.  The presenter delivers a story that relates to the slides.  Below are 5 steps to Pecha Kucha excellence.

The format of Pecha Kucha was created in 2003 by Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham, two European architects who work in Japan.  They designed the structure as a method to condense and limit the presentations of their fellow architects.  Their colleagues, when presenting in front of an audience, tend to talk forever.  This scenario is not exclusive to architects; everyone who presents has this problem.  To meet this challenge they devised Pecha Kucha, Japanese for “Chit Chat.”

Can you Pecha Kucha?  Yes, you can.  Everyone can do it.  Any subject can be presented in Pecha Kucha format.  All you have to do is pick your subject, develop a story, and then select your images.  Choose a subject that you really like as you’re going to spend a lot of time with it.

To do an impressive Pecha Kucha, you’ll need to practice your presentation so that you can smoothly go through all 20 slides without notes.  You can use notes, but it’s only 20 slides.  You can do it – if you practice.  Not using notes will let you engage with your audience.  That’s what Pecha Kucha is all about, sharing your favorite subject with other people. 

Pecha Kucha Night Bemidji, Minnesota - Houdini Pecha KuchaAround the globe Pecha Kucha is performed as an entertainment forum, Pecha Kucha Nights.  Many corporations and associations use the Pecha Kucha framework as a way to “tame” long-winded presenters.  Everyone gets 6 minutes and 40 seconds to present his or her idea.  In business settings, the short presentations are generally followed with lengthy Q&A sessions that help flesh out details of the subject.

I’ve delivered a Pecha Kucha in a variety of places: a corporate workshop in Washington, DC; a PowerPoint conference in Scottsdale, AZ; and at an official Pecha Kucha Night in Bemidji, MN.  The subject of my Pecha Kucha is Houdini; it’s his life story in 6 minutes and 40 seconds.

Pecha Kucha, like the other formal structures, i.e. sonnets, haiku, and limericks, might seem limiting.  However, within the structure that restricts, numerous options are possible.  From the initial creation to the third public presentation of Houdini Pecha Kucha I’ve learned a many new things about the structure and how to work with it. Here are some suggestions from my experience that will assist you.

Video: 5 Steps to Pecha Kucha Excellence

5 Steps to Pecha Kucha excellence

Start in analog Use 3 inch x 5 inch note cards to capture your main ideas.  Each card will translate into a potential slide. For each idea, write out 3 short sentences that expound on that idea.  When spoken aloud in a conversational tone, your spoken words can quickly fill 20 seconds.  Houdini Pecha Kucha started out with an initial set of 30 cards. Some of the main ideas were Houdini’s birth, his name, his escapes, and his death.

Edit your story in analog Sort, shift, and remove cards until you get a final 20 cards that tell a cohesive story. Your story can be chronological or thematic.  One way to bend the Pecha Kucha structure to your advantage is to tell your story in a “Top 10” format.  Use 5 slides to introduce your subject.  Do the “Top 10” with 10 slides.  Conclude with 5 more slides.  If your subject is a trip, divide your story and slides into a “before, during, and after.” 

Select your images Find strong visual images to match each of your selected 20 cards.  Your images will be seen on a large screen.  Make sure that your image files are the right resolution.  Select the best images to go with each topic.

Houdini Pecha Kucha in Bemidji, Minnesota

Move to digital Create a set of slides based on your note cards and story. Go big with your images, as your slides should have little or no text.  Animation is allowed, but if choose to use it, keep it simple and limit it to just a couple of slides.  Houdini Pecha Kucha had three animations in 20 slides.

Practice a lot Practice as much as you can and more than you think you need to.  It’s the only way to get your presentation to flow.  You’ll probably discover that you’ve got too much information for each slide. Audience reaction will also change your timing.  My advice is that you go for less.  Give some “performance” to your Pecha Kucha.  Be dramatic.  Add your own personal flair.  Have fun.

Special Pecha Kucha technique #1: In Houdini Pecha Kucha, the final three slides cover one topic.  This provides 60 seconds of space, an eternity in Pecha Kucha, to “hover” on the topic.  This space lets you adjust your timing and flow.  “Hover” space in Pecha Kucha is invaluable.

Special Pecha Kucha technique #2: To assist in learning Houdini Pecha Kucha I recorded my PowerPoint slide presentation as a movie.  I then placed the movie on my IPhone.  Carrying Houdini Pecha Kucha presentation in my pocket let me practice the presentation anytime and anywhere that I had a spare 6 minutes and 40 seconds.

Take a look at each of the Houdini Pecha Kucha presentations.  The delivery of the story and the connection with the audience improve with time.  The latest one, Bemidji Pecha Kucha Night, reveals that some improvisation is possible. I was able to add a couple of “off the cuff” remarks, while still meeting the time restraint.  The added remarks made the rigid structure less formal.

FYI: There’s another slide presentation format called “Ignite.’  Like Pecha Kucha there are 20 slides, however with “Ignite” each slide auto advances after 15 seconds, making each “Ignite” presentation 5 minutes. 

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