“Judge a person by their questions, rather than their answers.” ―Voltaire
Most presentations are followed by a question and answer (Q&A) session. You worked hard and delivered your presentation, but if you don’t handle the Q&A session properly, your entire effort will go unrecognized. You must strive to leave your audience with great satisfaction and impact. Some presenters feel that asking questions is bad as it shows there is no clarity about the presentation. But, in fact, questions from the audience indicate that your presentation is interesting and they are interested in learning more from you.
When you deliver your presentation, it is one-sided and thoroughly prepared. However, when you address the Q&A session, it is two-sided and nobody can anticipate the questions posed by the audiences. It is a challenging session, indeed! You must handle it well to leave a good impression on your audience. So it is important to address audience questions with a positive mindset. Here are some tips that can help:
- Prepare a few Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the topic to make you feel confident about responding to the questions.
- Understand the question and then answer. If the question is not clear, don’t hesitate to ask the person to repeat it. Respond if the answer is known to you. Admit it if you don’t know the answer. Remember, it is better to say, “I don’t know,” than to give a wrong answer. It builds your credibility.
- If you don’t know the answer, you can ask the participants to respond. If the right response comes, pass on the credit to the respondent and encourage your audience to applaud.
- Listen to the question first, and then respond. Not listening to the question properly and fully puts you in a poor light, resulting in improper and inadequate responses. Also, repeat the question in front of all, so the audience listens to it, and then you can clarify it. This serves two purposes—you get time to think through the question during this time and it enables your audience to know what the question is, so they will be able to judge whether you responded properly.
- Pause before answering the questioner. Maintain eye contact with all while responding to the questioner as it keeps you connected with the entire audience. Otherwise, the audience will disconnect from you and they will discuss the question among themselves.
- Don’t respond to some questions too quickly and to other questions too slowly. Replying too fast shows you are eager to display your knowledge, while replying too slowly could indicate you are not confident in your response or you lack knowledge. Strike the right balance between the two.
- Give credit to the questioner. You can begin responding to questions by saying, “Thank you for asking,” “Thanks for raising an interesting point,” “I was hoping someone would ask that question,” “Your question gives me an opportunity to speak about…” etc. Don’t praise people selectively as the audience may think you are playing favorites.
- Avoid perceptions. After delivering your presentation, you develop your own impressions about the audience from their body language and responses. If you address the question based on these perceptions, you will do injustice to the questioners. Therefore, listen to the question carefully and respond with a clean slate.
- Don’t give half-baked responses. Think through the question and reply. If you don’t understand the question, ask the person to repeat it.
- Never attack the questioner for asking silly or foolish questions as some questioners ask questions for the sake of asking. Be polite to them and respond. Some questioners shoot questions to test your knowledge and to provoke you. Be cool, calm, and behave like a professional speaker by replying with etiquette.
- In rare cases, you may come across egoistic questioners who don’t agree with you and have a sole aim to discredit you. Be careful with them and don’t get trapped and provoked. Be cheerful and respond. Defend your ideas. The audience will judge you on your knowledge, performance, and etiquette. Above all, remember that you are not there to please someone, but to share your knowledge and make a difference.
- Handle hostile questioners carefully. Be assertive and respond. If they don’t fall in line, tell them you will discuss the question with them further during the break.
- When you find someone is interrupting your presentation frequently with questions and disturbing the audience, you can say, “I’d be happy to discuss this with you after the presentation.”
- Maintain control over your presentation. When you allow audience participation, you risk losing control.
- End your Q&A on a positive note. Summarize the takeaways and conclude with an emotional appeal.
“There aren’t any embarrassing questions—just embarrassing answers.” ―Carl Rowan
Adapted excerpt from “Secrets of Successful Public Speaking: How to Become a Great Speaker” by M.S. Rao, Ph.D. For more information, visit: https://www.amazon.com/Secrets-Successful-Public-Speaking-Speaker/dp/1628656107
Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D.is the father of “Soft Leadership” and founder of MSR Leadership Consultants, India. He is an international leadership guru with 38 years of experience and the author of more than 45 books, including “21 Success Sutras for CEOs” (http://www.amazon.com/21-Success-Sutras-Ceos-Rao/dp/162865290X). He is a C-suite advisor and global keynote speaker. He is passionate about serving and making a difference in the lives of others. His vision is to develop 1 million students as global leaders by 2030 (http://professormsraovision2030.blogspot.in/2014/12/professor-m-s-raos-vision-2030-one_31.html). He advocates gender equality globally (#HeForShe) and was honored as an upcoming International Leadership Guru by Global Gurus (http://globalgurus.org/upcoming-leadership-gurus). He developed teaching tool Meka’s Method; leadership training tool 11E Leadership Grid; and leadership learning tool Soft Leadership Grid. Most of his work is available free of charge on his four blogs, including http://professormsraovision2030.blogspot.com. He can be reached at: email@example.com.