When handled well, Q&A–questions and answers–becomes the most important element of a presentation.
A presentation is not an information dump. It’s not the opportunity for presenters to say everything they know about the topic at hand. It’s not a one-way transfer of knowledge.
That’s not how adults learn. Adults want to be involved in what they’re learning.
A presentation is like a focused conversation. They build on what the audience already knows. And they keep adding to it.
And presenters–effective ones, at least–give their audiences time to absorb and think about what they’ve said.
Q&A allow the audience to engage with the presenter and the content of the presentation. The more the engagement, the better the presentation.
Here’s how to make the most of Q&A
Set the Rules at the Beginning
- Tell the audience at the beginning of your presentation when and how you will handle questions.
- Unless you’re giving a formal speech to a large audience, it’s best to take questions throughout your talk, not just at the end.
- You could save Q&A for specific times during your presentation, like at the end of each major section.
- Whatever you decide, let the audience know.
Field Questions Fairly
- Listen to the question before rushing to answer it.
- Find out what the person really wants to know without getting hung up on how they ask the question and without embarrassing them.
- Correct factual errors or misunderstandings immediately.
- Defuse loaded questions with humor, if possible.
- If necessary, repeat the question in summary fashion so everyone can hear it.
- Give all audience members a chance to ask questions.
Answer Questions Tactfully
- Use your answer to reinforce or clarify your main idea. Don’t give a new speech.
- Answer the question as directly as possible without being abrupt.
- Begin by speaking directly to the person who asked the question. Then turn to someone in another part of the room, so you don’t get caught in a one-on-one dialogue.
- Be respectful at all times, even when–or especially when–you disagree.
- Keep your sense of humor.
- Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” Offer to get back to the person with the answer. Or, if appropriate, ask the audience for their insights.
- When a question requires a lengthy answer, give a summary, admit there’s more to be said, and offer to discuss it later with the person.
- Retain control of the presentation, deciding when end the discussion and to move on.
End the Q&A with a Summary
- Don’t end your presentation simply by answering the last questions and saying, “Thank you.”
- Answer the last question. Then wrap-up your presentation with a one or two sentence summary.