Episode 14: October 28, 2010
by Lisa B. Marshall
Listener Bonnie Taylor from San Antonio, TX writes:
I know rehearsal is key to sounding natural in delivery of the scripted material, but what about the scary part...when you have to ask "What questions do you have?" That part sometimes doesn't go so smoothly for me, even when I'm prepared with some of the frequently asked questions or provided supplemental talking points. How can I prepare more effectively and keep folks on-topic so that part doesn’t become a free-for-all?
Thanks, Bonnie, for listening to the show and thank you for your question. You’re not alone. Many people feel confident with the main part of their presentation, but often feel less than prepared when it comes to the question and answer session. However, allowing the audience to ask questions is a great way to clarify and reinforce your message. It can also leave a great impression of your ability to think on your feet, if you handle it well.
The podcast edition of this tip is sponsored by Go To Meeting. Hold your meetings online for just $49 a month. Try GoToMeeting free for 45 days. Visit GoToMeeting.com, click the free trial button, and enter the promo code PODCAST.
So How Do You Ensure a Successful Q&A Session?
As you already mentioned, good preparation begins by reviewing commonly asked questions. However, more importantly, you should also prepare for the difficult questions. Depending on the content, they may be obvious, but other times they might not be so clear. The best advice I can give you is to think about the parts of the main presentation that might have a negative impact on your audience but also be sure to think about the parts of the presentation that make you uncomfortable. It’s both of these areas that require extra attention.
Diffuse Loaded Questions
Try to anticipate the tough questions and prepare your responses ahead of time. Work with a colleague. In some cases you may want to have an extra slide prepared or even invite someone to join you for the presentation, if necessary.
Try to anticipate the tough questions and prepare your responses ahead of time.
For sure, you’ll want to practice diffusing loaded questions. At times, these questions do include legitimate concerns that should be addressed, but it is very important not to react emotionally to a loaded question.
For example, you might be asked, “How long will it take to learn the new system, we are already short staffed. There’s no way we can do our regular jobs and devote time to learning something new.” You’ll need to diffuse the situation, in this case, by having a plan of action. You might say, “We agree that we’ll need to free up time to learn the system, and here are the steps we are planning.” Again, thinking about potentially loaded questions ahead of time allows you to prepare and plan action steps.
At times, a question might just require you to diffuse it and move on. For example, if someone asks, “Do you enjoy delivering bad news?” you could say something like, “This news is difficult for everyone. Do you have a specific question?” Again, the key is to not react.
Responding to Negative Comments
You can use a similar technique if the person is making a negative comment. You might respond by saying, “Thanks for your comment, are there any more questions?” Be sure not to return your gaze to the questioner at the end of your response, in fact, you should be looking away from him. The idea is to visually cut off the person from your field of view, this way you are subtly discouraging him from continuing on with another negative comment or question.
If someone asks a question that’s not directly related to the presentation, you should feel free to respond by saying that the question is beyond the scope of the presentation. You could also add that if there is time at the end you will answer the question then. Of course if you really don’t want to answer the question, then you should be sure to run out of time.
Similarly, if your questioner asks a multi-part question, you shouldn’t feel obligated to answer all the parts. Just choose which parts of the question you’d like to answer and say, “I’d like to give everyone a chance to ask a question, so I’ll answer your first question now, and if there is time at the end, I’ll come back around to you.”
You Just Don’t Know
So, what should you do if you get asked a question that you don’t know the answer to? Again, the key is confidence. The best thing to do is to respond by saying, “That’s a great question. Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you.” Of course, the worst thing to do would be to make something up.
Collecting Questions Ahead of Time
If you want to exert more control during the Q&A session, you could try handing out three-by-five inch cards and encourage participants to write down their questions during your presentation. Have them collected while you are summarizing your talk. Then you can choose to skip or modify loaded questions as needed. When you get to one you don’t want to answer, you can simply pass it by.
Cool, Confident, and in Control
Perhaps the most important overall advice is to remember is that your audience is expecting you to be confident and to maintain control of the session. Usually when the Q&A session goes bad it’s because the speaker either loses control or loses confidence. People will form a negative impression when there is an emotional reaction, but will have a positive impression when you remain cool, confident, and in control.
Bonnie, try these techniques the next time you deliver a talk and don’t forget to let us know how it goes!
This is Lisa B. Marshall, passionate about communication your success is my business.
If you have a question, send email to email@example.com. For information about keynote speeches or workshops visit lisabmarshall.com. http://www.lisabmarshall.com/