Most presentations benefit from a question-and-answer session (Q&A). Audience members appreciate this time to get clarification, share comments or ideas, and get deeper information on key concepts. However, because the Q&A feels less formal than the main presentation, many speakers neglect to prepare for this time. In reality, the Q&A requires just as much preparation as any other section of your talk.
Following are seven tips for a successful Q&A.
- Encourage questions. When you ask for questions, smile and talk into or lean toward the audience. Use your body language to invite participation.
- Use an open-ended question. “What questions do you have?” implies that the audience has been listening and will ask questions. Asking, “Does anyone have a question?” limits the response to a yes or no answer and may end the Q&A before it begins.
- Ask a question of your own. If you ask for questions and no one responds, consider asking a question of your own. Simply state, “A question I’m often asked is…” Provide a brief answer and ask for more questions.
- Repeat each question. Depending on the group size and situation, some audience members may not have heard the question being asked. It is a point of common courtesy to repeat the question for the entire group when appropriate.
- Use tact and diplomacy. Reword a question in a positive or neutral fashion if an audience member initially stated it in a hostile manner. This shows that you are composed, not easily flustered, and capable of handling the question in a professional manner. Be brief and cooperative.
- Answer each question to the entire audience. Make eye contact when you are listening to the questioner, but during your answer, distribute your eye contact throughout the audience. End your answer by looking at the group at large.
- Avoid the “Good question” retort. Overuse of this phrase renders it meaningless. It also raises doubt in people’s minds that you are fully prepared. At the very least, it’s a cliché that you want to avoid.
When you finish the Q&A, thank your audience for their time and attention, and then introduce your final thought. The final statement you make at the close of your presentation should connect back to your opening hook. Bring the audience full circle by returning to the one key theme you introduced in the opening. Connect your hook and final thought and close on a strong, positive, note.
By preparing for the Q&A just as you do the main body of your speech, you can deliver a presentation that flows seamlessly and inspires your audience to action.