There are many situations as a public speaker where you will need to lead a Q & A session:
- At the end of presentations
- At press conferences
- On teleseminars and webinars
And although it can seem pretty simple on the surface — your audience asks questions and you answer them — there is an art to leading a successful Q & A presentation.
Q & A Etiquette
First, there are some basic rules of the road you should follow to truly respect your audience and improve the flow of the Q & A dynamic.
- Mirror the question
Either repeat the question before you answer it or rephrase it. This makes sure the whole audience hears the question, and it gives you a moment to formulate your answer. I’ve been to many presentations where the speaker does not do this and two things happen:
- someone in the audience requests the speaker to repeat the question, and
- the answer is often disjointed as the speaker comes up with a better way to answer the question once he or she has started answering. You don’t want that to happen to you.
- Address your answer to the whole audience
Yes, you want to address the person who asked the question. But in most cases, the question will be a representative of what many in the audience would have asked. So, make eye contact with the question-asker first, then start moving your eye contact around the room. This not only includes your whole audience in the Q & A session but also keeps your energy open, thus encouraging more people to ask questions.
- Give your answers context
Sometimes you’ll get questions from more informed members of the audience. When this happens, you’ll need to back up a bit and explain the context of the question so that the entire audience can benefit. This makes sure everyone there understands the question, so they can better understand the answer.
- Never interrupt a question
Respect the people who ask questions by giving them your full attention. Don’t be rude and interrupt. The only time you should stop a person from asking a question is if it is clear they are being disruptive or disrespectful of their fellow audience members.
- Be honest
Sometimes you’re going to get a question that you don’t know the answer to. Be honest and ‘fess up. You gain greater respect by acknowledging your limitations than by being a phony, know-it-all. Better yet, if you can promise to find the answer and pass it along to the organizer or questioner via email later, do so.
Commanding the flow of the Q & A session
If you let them, Q & A sessions can get away from you. So there are some things you can do to take control and make sure they are effective for both you and your audience.
- Make time for it
If you know the organizer wants you to include a Q&A session as a part of a larger presentation, be sure to allow time for it. Check with him or her to see if the Q&A session is a part of your allotted time or if it is separate. If you’ve been hired to give a one-hour speech, and that includes the Q&A, plan to speak for about 40-45 minutes and answer questions in the remaining time.
- Anticipate common questions
The content of your speech will often suggest questions your audience might ask. Prepare for these questions. Take a look at your content and come up with probable questions and their answers. This will help you answer audience questions more fluidly and with confidence.
- Be clear on when questions are allowed
Some speakers are open to questions throughout a presentation. Others want to wait until the core speech has been completed. If your audience knows that questions will be accepted, be sure to announce at the beginning of your presentation when the floor will be open to questions. Also, when you make this announcement, phrase it in a positive manner. Say something like, “I look forward to answering your questions at the end of the presentation, so be sure to take note of them so you’ll remember them.” Avoid negative phrases that suggest the Q&A is “obligatory” or in some way unsavory to you.
- Keep questions on target
Sometimes you’ll get questions that are not related to your presentation at all. By allowing yourself to answer these off-topic questions, you are disrespecting the audience. Instead, say something like, “That’s a great question, but is a bit off-topic. Why don’t you ask me that after the presentation so we don’t take up everyone’s time.”
- Rein in the dominators
Yes, you will inevitably have to deal with someone who has way more questions than anyone else. And sometimes these people are oblivious to the fact that they are stomping on other questioner’s time. When this happens, you need to respectfully and politely deflect further questions from that individual to after the presentation.
End with a proper conclusion
Give your presentation a proper conclusion at the end of the final question you take. Don’t let the final question dictate how you end your time on stage. Take control of this crucial moment in your presentation and wrap it up on your own terms. This can be done with a summary, a call to action or even a nice rounding quote that is relevant to your speech.
Resources for developing your Q&A presentation
- Leading the Perfect Q&A
- How to Master Question-and-Answer Sessions
- Video: Public Speaking Tips to Cover a Q&A Session
- Public Speaking – Q&A Challenges – Tackling Tough Questions
By Barbara Busey
Did you miss these?
Here are the previous posts in this “Type of Speeches” series:
- The Keynote Address
- The Training Session
- The Motivational Speech
- The Entertaining Speech
- The Demonstration
- The Information Dump
- The Inspirational Speech
The next post in this series is The Persuasive Speech.