At some point in your Long Beach speaking career, you will have to perform a Q&A session, whether on its own or as part of a larger presentation.
There are many scenarios in which speakers need to lead a Q&A session:
- At press conferences
- At the end of presentations
- 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 an effective and successful Q&A session.
Q&A etiquette: The basic rules of the road
Following these guidelines shows respect for your audience and can improve the flow of the Q&A dynamic.
- Mirror the question
When you mirror a question back to the audience, you either repeat the question before you answer it or you rephrase it. This makes sure the entire audience hears the question, and it gives you a moment to formulate your answer. When a speaker does not do this, one or both of two things tend to 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.
Don’t let this to happen to you.
- Address your answer to the entire audience
Of course you want to address the person who asked the question. However, in many cases, the question will be representative of what many people in the audience would have asked. Therefore, make eye contact with the question-asker first, then start moving your focus around the room. This not only includes everyone in your audience, but also keeps your energy open, thus encouraging more people to ask questions.
- Give your answers some context
Sometimes you’ll get questions from more informed members of the audience. When this happens, you’ll need to take a step back and explain the context of the question to the reset of the audience so they, too, can benefit. This ensures everyone there understands the question, so they can better understand the answer.
- Never interrupt a question
Show respect to 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 disrespectful of or disruptive to their fellow audience members.
- Be honest
Sometimes you will get a question to which you don’t know the answer. Be honest and let them know. 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. However, there are some things you can do to take control and make sure the session is 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 enough 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 them. Take a look at your content and come up with likely questions and their answers. This helps you answer audience questions with more fluidly and confidence.
- Be clear on when questions are allowed — up front
Some speakers are open to questions throughout a presentation. Others want to wait until the end. 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 them. 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 this presentation. Be sure to write your questions down 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 of answering an off-topic questions, 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 overbearing and over enthusiastic
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 treading on other questioner’s time. When this happens, you need to respectfully and politely deflect further questions from that person 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 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
- Structuring Q&A by Scott S. Smith
- Video: Public Speaking Tips to Cover a Q&A Session
- Public Speaking – Q&A Challenges – Tackling Tough Questions
By Barbara Busey
This is the eighth article in a series about the different types of speeches. If you missed the first five, here are links to the rest:
- The keynote
- The training session
- The motivational speech
- The entertaining speech
- The demonstration
- The informational speech
- The inspirational speech
Would you like more information about public speaking? Visit PublicSpeakingSuperPowers.com for tips, advice and plenty of videos about all the “powers” you can employ in your speaking endeavors.
NOTE: Are you a Long Beach based speaker? Do you know of an upcoming speaking event? Contact me to have an interview with you published in this column.