Questions that Require Answers

The Question & Answer (Q & A) part of your presentation is either an opportunity for you to really “connect” with your audience or… it is a “trap door” that can make both you and your message quickly disappear.

Many inexperienced speakers fear Q & A.  Even if they don't fear it, they usually mishandle the opportunity that it presents – to demonstrate that you are truly there to meet and answer their needs.  As a presenter, your credibility will either rise or fall depending on how you handle Q & A.

Audiences are tired of “scripted” presentations.  They want you to go beyond your 300 bullet points.  They want to probe and will not settle for merely being told.  Q & A offers the perfect opportunity for you to have a “conversation” with your audience.

I found a very amusing – and useful – post on Seth Godin's Blog (Click here)  Seth tells the story of a presentation made without PowerPoint; actually without any formal presentation  – it is 100% Q & A.  In the right hands and with the right audience that just might work.  Of course, as Seth suggests, you should have a “plant” in the audience to ask the first question and get the dialog rolling.

Personally, I encourage Q & A whenever I present.  Here are a few pointers to keep in mind to help make your Q & A opportunities complement your presentations and strengthen your message:

1) Always have one question in mind to get things started (should no one volunteer)  e.g. “Frequently, my audiences ask me for more examples of…

2) There is nothing wrong with having a “plant” in the audience to ask the first question.  This is merely opening up the dialog.

3) Always anticipate the possible questions that might be asked – and… prepare your considered response ahead of time.

4) Always repeat the question so that everyone in the audience can hear it.  This also serves to give you some extra time to think about your response.

5) Answer the question – and then move on!  Don't offer additional information.  Save that for another question from the audience – or offer to respond in more detail after the session has concluded.

6) Give your response to the entire audience – resist the temptation to direct your answer exclusively to the person who asked the question.  This is a mistake that many presenters make – and they risk losing the attention of the (rest of the ) audience when they do so.

7) Be especially aware of your body language during Q & A!  If you are not “stuck” behind a podium make every effort to move forward toward the question.  Maintain eye contact even when being asked tough questions.  Do not let your eyes roam (to the floor or to the ceiling) or your attention level drop when you are being asked a question.  More than any one gesture, your ability to maintain eye contact reflects your level of confidence!

8) Always signal that Q & A is coming to and end – “We have time for one final question.”  And then conclude with a strong restatement of your main message and / or your call to action.  Make sure that this is the last thing that your audience hears before they leave.  Do not end on a whimper , “Well, if there are no more questions… Thank You.”

In another post I will discuss techniques for handling “trouble makers” or “wind bags” who threaten to hijack your Q & A sessions.

I'll conclude by reminding you to include Q & A opportunities in all of your presentations.  They are a terrific way to gauge the level of understanding that your audience has as a result of your presentation.  Or, as Coach John Wooden says, “You haven't taught until they have learned!”

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