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If you’ve ever given a presentation in front of a live audience, you probably know the Q&A session can feel scarier than the speech itself! That’s because while you can spend weeks preparing for your speech, the Q&A session is largely out of your control. And as we all know, anytime we don’t have full control, things can—and sometimes do—go wrong.
The key is to think of the Q&A session not as a potential snafu, but as another opportunity to show off your expertise, get immediate feedback and expand on your message. When you focus on taking advantage of this extra time with the audience, you put yourself in a mindset to further inspire and motivate attendees.
Read our top tips for handling tough Q&A sessions by skipping ahead or view the visual summary of this post below.
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Before we get down to the nitty-gritty, let’s first talk about what your ultimate goals for a successful Q&A should be:
Even though individual people are asking individual questions, your responsibility is to the entire group when answering all of them.
This leads us to goal number 2:
Just as eye contact is critical throughout your presentation, it’s equally important during your Q&A session. Don’t just look at the person who asked the question, but always scan the entire audience so your answer really lands.
And that leads us to goal #3:
Every question asked is an opportunity to highlight your core message. Don’t just answer a question. Find ways to make a connection between the question and your content.
Now that you understand these three key principles, let’s move on to some ways you can handle Q&A sessions like a pro.
Eating half-priced sushi is never a good idea.
Know what else is a bad idea? Being unprepared for your Q&A session. Now you may be asking, “How can I be prepared for my Q&A when I don’t know what questions I’ll be asked?”
My “A” to your “Q” would be, “Are you sure you don’t know what you’ll be asked?” If you’re giving the presentation for the first time, consider showing it to friends, family and colleagues and have them ask you the toughest questions they can think of.
You may also want to spend some time searching Google using a variety of keywords related to your topic. This will bring up tons of relevant articles and blog posts where you can discover questions that have been answered within the content.
And finally, social media sites like LinkedIn and Twitter are a daily Q&A hotbed, so be sure to spend time looking on there as well.
Once you’ve gathered a nice list of potential questions, you’ll want to separate them into two separate categories: those you can answer in your presentation, and those that you can’t.
The questions that can be answered in your presentation are essentially little indicators that you’ve left important information out. Go back through and weave these answers into your content.
Will this take a bit of time to ensure you keep the flow of your original speech? Yes, yes it will. However, neglecting to add this information will be a red flag for the audience, and may perhaps indicate that you’re not the expert you’ve claimed to be.
Those questions that are not directly related to your topic but sort of “hover” around it should not be weaved in, but you should prepare to answer them nonetheless. And don’t shy away from any curveballs. Those are the ones you should prepare for the most!
No matter how prepared you try to be for your Q&A, it is very possible that one or two questions may be asked that you have no answer to. Don’t feel pressured to give an answer if you really don’t have one, because chances are it will seem weak and thrown together, and you won’t really be helping your audience members.
In these situations, it’s much better to prepare a slide with your contact information on it. Should someone ask you something that requires more thought or research, simply show the slide and ask that person to contact you so you can present them with the right answer at a later date.
This contact slide is also a great way to keep on schedule. If questions are not slowing down, let your audience know your time is almost up but that they can contact you with whatever further questions they may have.
The majority of Q&A sessions take place at the end of a presentation, but sometimes they happen in the middle. Then again, maybe the speakers right before you invited people to ask questions all throughout their presentations.
Tell your audience up front when the Q&A session will take place. This will help you avoid being distracted and will also encourage your audience members to begin thinking of questions.
Sometimes when the audience is very large, the venue needs to be even larger. This causes the acoustics to be less than desirable. In some instances, maybe the acoustics are fine but the question being asked is a bit jumbled and complex. Whatever the situation, it’s always a good idea to repeat, and if necessary, rephrase the question for the benefit of the rest of the audience.
And, for those attendees who ask three questions in one, just focus on what is the most answerable or relates to your content. You could say, “I’d like to answer all of your questions—but because I know other people have questions as well—let me focus on that first point.”
A study conducted by the Bell Leadership Institute found that the two most desirable traits in leaders (speakers are definitely leaders) are a strong work ethic and a good sense of humor. When you’re answering questions, feel free to crack some (appropriate) jokes.
This is especially important when someone asks an awkward question, just to see how you’ll handle it. Yes, those people exist, and you can’t let them get the best of you.
Remember those old Dry Idea commercials? That catchphrase “Never Let Them See You Sweat” certainly applies to Q&A sessions. Don’t ever lose your cool with awkward questions, but instead, deflect any awkwardness with humor.
If, for whatever reason, a question should make you a bit angry, take a second, breathe, and regain your composure as best you can. The good news is, your attendees are there to learn from you, an expert in your field, so, more often than not, you should only be asked sincere questions.
We can’t talk about having fun without talking about NOT trying to be perfect in your Q&A session. Human beings make mistakes; we’re not perfect but rather lovely works in progress.
If you make a mistake in one of your answers, don’t panic. Simply make a joke of it and correct your information. The important thing is to never let a mistake throw you off course. How you handle a mistake will tell the audience a lot about your character.
You’ve worked hard and come this far, don’t just abruptly end your Q&A with a, “Are there any more questions ... okay, thank you,” and walk off the stage. Always end your Q&As by repeating the main themes or key content points of your presentation. This will leave your audience with your overall message in mind.
Whether it’s an auditorium full of people or just a few team members in the conference room, handling a Q&A session like a pro will help you enforce your message and establish your credibility. Remember, since most Q&As happen at the end of a presentation, how you handle it will have a lasting impact on your audience members.
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