Q&A is one of the most engaging, powerful, and effective elements of a presentation.
And yet many presenters (especially technical experts) avoid Q&A, mostly out of fear that they’ll be asked a question they can’t answer.
Addressing your audience’s questions makes them feel like participants, not passive recipients of your wisdom from on high. Their questions let you gauge how well they understand and accept your ideas.
I used to be happy with my presentations when the audience didn’t ask any questions. Their silence, I thought, meant that they understood and agreed with what I had said.
Now I think that an audience’s lack of questions means that they are so confused or so uninterested that they can’t be bothered.
Stirring the audience up and making them want to ask questions is a good thing. Knowing how to respond in a way that feeds their interest and drives home your message is even better.
Guidelines for Handling Q&A Effectively
Set the Rules in Your Introduction
Tell people when and how you’ll handle questions. You have a couple of options:
- For a formal speech, you may want to save Q&A for the end. (Don’t end on Q&A, mind you.)
- For a casual talk, you may want to take questions throughout your remarks, making it more like a conversation than a presentation.
- For most presentations, you may want to schedule Q&A for specific times…at the conclusion, say, of each main point.
Field Questions Fairly
- Listen to the entire question, even if you think you know what’s being asked.
- Make sure you understand what is being asked. Rephrase the question, if necessary, and ask, “Did I understand you correctly?”
- Never embarrass the questioner.
- Repeat the question only if necessary: if other people didn’t hear the question or if you are being recorded.
- Correct factual errors or misunderstandings that are implied or implicit in the question.
Answer Questions Tactfully
- Talk to the entire audience, not just the individual asking the question.
- Use your sense of humor…if you have one. (You can laugh at yourself or at the situation, not at someone in the audience.)
- Keep your answers brief and to the point without being abrupt.
- Use your answers to clarify and reinforce your main points.
- Be willing to say, “I don’t know.”
- If a question requires a lengthy answer, give a brief one, admit that there’s more to be said, and offer to discuss it more fully during a break.
- Retain control of the presentation, deciding when to end Q&A and move on.
End the Q&A with a Summary
After answering the last question, don’t say, “Thank you,” and sit down. Conclude your presentation with a brief summary and a call to action. (See How to End a Speech.)