Recently, I attended a local technical institute meeting to hear a friend give a one hour keynote speech. His presentation provided very useful content and was also embedded with strong visual stories and humor that illuminated his points. He interacted well with the audience, including giving them a brief task which involved getting discussions going at the table. He completed the activity confidently, taking back control of the room as he continued his keynote. As part of his keynote, he also had a member of the audience work with him on a brief role-play.
To sum up his presentation, I would say it provided value to me, his stories were believable and intriguing, his humor was appropriate and on-target, he had energy and animation, and the audience was responsive. He did not just present to the audience; he bonded with them, and I could feel energy in the room.
When we spoke afterwards, he told me that he had a concern with his presentation. He stated that he sometimes had difficulty getting the audience members involved during the question and answer part of his presentations. I was surprised that he had this concern since I noticed him getting some good questions from the audience. The only hiccup I saw during the Q&A session was that the coordination of the handheld microphone was unpolished. The person who asked the first question asked his question without a microphone and also remained seated. At the audiences prompt, a hand-held microphone was handed to him. The questioner spoke into the microphone for a while; however, it wasn’t turned on. Again, at the audience’s prompt, he turned it on, and annoyingly (to me) tapped the top to see if it was on, and then spoke. The audience still could not hear him because his mouth was too far from the microphone. He was instructed to put his mouth closer to the microphone, got his question out, and his question was answered. From then on, it went smoothly for the other audience members asking questions.
For most speakers, being asked good questions and having a flow of questions helps them feel that their presentation provided value and the audience were engaged. Asking if anyone has any questions and getting a dead silence can give any speaker “gut wrench”.
One of the reasons that you may not get questions towards the end of your presentation might be because you have answered most of them during your presentation (either in the content or sporadic audience questions throughout the presentation).
This article covers questions and answers during or following a presentation.
What are some success strategies for handling a Q & A session during a presentation?
1. The value of a Q & A session is that you engage the audience. You can also build your credibility by answering questions well.
2. Consider what time you have for your presentation. If it is relatively short (up to 60 minutes) and you need to make sure your cover all your information, you may want to consider having the Q & A session towards the end so you keep control of the time.
3. Let the audience know up front when they can ask questions (anytime during the presentation, towards the end, afterwards etc.).
4. Anticipate questions, write down what you think the questions could be, and practice delivering concise, quality answers. Do an audience analysis as you prepare for the event. Find out what is concerning them, what frustrates them, and what parts of the presentation could produce hostile questions. Ask your friends and associates what questions they would potentially ask.
5. Think about how the audience is going to be able to hear the questions being asked. It is frustrating if the rest of the audience cannot hear the question. Some people have quiet voices or may be too shy to project their voices. If you are going to utilize a hand-held microphone, think about the coordination. If possible, have a helper go around the room and hand the microphone to the questioner. The helper should be instructed to turn the microphone on and let people know that it needs to be held close to the mouth. Beware of feedback potential. Practice to make sure this does not become a cringing screeching moment that kills your Q & A.
6. During your presentation, “sew the question seed” to entice audience members to start thinking about questions they may want to ask. Provide them with a piece of paper etc. to write questions down so that they can recall them at the Q & A time.
7. Writing questions down on a piece of paper can also allow timid audience members to pass the written questions in your direction if they are not comfortable speaking in front of an audience.
8. It can be beneficial to include your e-mail address and other contact information on the piece of paper for people to send you questions afterwards (you can also use this piece of paper to market yourself by including your web address, blog address, and brief details of the services you supply.
9. Before answering a question, listen to the full details of the question, don’t cut off the questioner. Repeat the question back to the audience, pause and think about your answer, answer clearly and concisely, without giving them a new “speech”. Pausing after you hear the question and repeating the question back to the audience gives you time to think about your response. Take your time with easy questions and with difficult questions. This technique can help provide adequate time to think about difficult questions without appearing “stumped”.
10. Answer questions honestly, don’t try to bluff.
11. If you do not know the answer, ask them to write down the question on a piece of paper or business card, and give it to you after the meeting. You can then research the question. Make sure you are dedicated to following up on your promises.
12. Do not deflect the question by pushing them towards another contact, don’t “pass the buck” – get them the information they need if at all possible.
13. If you do not have a good answer, ask the audience members if they can help out.
14. If a question is more of a comment or an opinion that is rambling on, this might be one time you discreetly and as politely as possible “cut them off” and simply state “thank you for the comment”
15. To ensure that questions get asked at certain parts of your presentation you may want to get the audience thinking about questions and state:
• “The next part of my presentation is (controversial /complicated /intriguing….) you may want to write your questions down on a piece of paper and I will answer them at the Q & A part towards the end. You can either forward your written questions up to me at that time or my assistant will hand you the microphone”.
• “I typically get a lot of audience questions from the following part of my presentation. Let me tell you a story to illuminate my point, and then I will answer any questions”.
16. If someone is dominating the Q & A session, you could use a technique such as answering them while making eye contact with people in another section of the room. When you have answered the question, walk to another section of the speaking area and state something like “let’s get a question from this side of the room”.
17. Do not criticize your questioner or belittle them. If you do, you may make the audience hostile or reluctant to ask any questions.
18. Some questioners just like to ramble on. One of the ways to handle this is to firmly ask them for clarification on what their question is. Another way would be to say, “If I hear you right your question is…”.
19. Keep your composure for hostile questions, or loaded questions that are designed to erode your credibility or to manipulate you. Under certain circumstances, you may want to suggest, “Let’s discuss this one-on-one afterwards so I can get more details and get you your answer. When a hostile question is being asked do not nod your head (to indicate you are listening) because the audience may interpret that you are in agreement.
20. When you have answered the question, watch the person’s body language and ask them, “Did that answer the question?”
21. If you tell someone, “That’s an excellent question”, stay consistent. If you do not say something similar for the next question, they may be left with the feeling that their question was not important. Make a list of possible responses that will make audience members feel important.
• I get asked that question a lot, it’s a great question.
• Thank you for asking that question.
• That’s the best question of the day.
• That question alone was worth my being here today.
• That question brings back great memories for me; let me answer it with a brief story.
• That’s an excellent question. I would prefer to research it and get back to you with as detailed information as I can. Can you write the question on the back of your business card, and I will expedite getting you an answer?
• That’s a great question, but a difficult one to answer. Let me answer it giving you my personal perspective.
22. If questions are few and far between or trailing off, say, “I have time for one more question…”
23. If you have a presentation where audiences may be hesitant to ask questions, it can help to have some pre-arranged questions from acquaintances in the audience. Sometimes this is all that is needed to get the ball rolling.
24. Do not end with a Q & A session. This can literally suck the energy out of your presentation, and end up with “warm polite applause” at the end. By having your closing story and call-to action at the end, you have a better chance of finishing your presentation with impact and energetic applause.
25. Final note – how do you handle questions that come from someone with a strong accent? Someone with an accent that you cannot decipher. They ask the question numerous times, and you still have no idea what they are asking. As someone who has an Irish accent, I decided to contact a well- traveled friend who also happened to be my boss many years ago. Here is his response. I include it word-for-word as he provides some excellent advice:
“Dave—it took me a year to understand you! No, just kidding. And, yes that has happened to me, and I’ve been successful in understanding by going one or more of the following routes. Remember, you don’t want to embarrass the person asking the question. You want them as an ally after all is said and done.
• But, you can say, I hear you but I’m not sure just what you are asking. Can you ask the question another way? That gives you two sets of data that you may be able to combine into an understanding of the question.
• The other route is to get help from the audience. You can ask them if they have a comment or answer/opinion on the question. A little discussion from others may clarify the question.
• And finally, you may simply say something like—“I’m sorry, but I just don’t understand what you are asking. Can someone in the audience explain it to me, please?” This admits defeat but does not totally place the blame on the accent or on the person asking the question.
I’ve used all three in India (and parts of Louisiana!)”.