You’ve just delivered a presentation, and relief sets in. But not so fast – there is one more piece left. Neglecting it can turn a well-prepared talk into a nightmare.
Allowing time for audience questions – and preparing for it – is a critical part of the presentation process. Speakers who shine in this area use the time to reinforce key points, strengthen the audience-speaker connection and end presentations powerfully.
Q&A can be intimidating. While you can anticipate many questions relating to your topic and audience, some questions may surprise you. You may even feel insulted or annoyed by questions that challenge your message or force you to repeat information. An audience member may ask you something you don’t know or drone on about an individual situation that doesn’t apply to most of the group. Use these professional speaking tips to ensure you’re ready for whatever is thrown your way!
Speakers can prepare for questions by developing a strong knowledge of their topic, sources and key messages. A high comfort level with the subject matter builds confidence and positions you as an expert. While practicing your talk, anticipate questions that may arise based on your knowledge of the audience. Take into account the average age and experience of audience members and their reason for being at the presentation. Finding out what value they expect to gain from your talk will help you prepare. Check out these handy audience analysis questions to ask yourself before the conference delivery!
During the Talk
Speakers have three options for handling questions. Before beginning your talk, tell the group which method you have chosen.
- Invite audience members to ask questions as they arise. This method works well during training seminars and interactive sessions.
- Designate several spots throughout the talk where questions will be entertained. You can stop for questions after each main topic or immediately before each break.
- Ask the audience to hold questions until the end. This method works well for keynote speeches, which flow more smoothly without interruptions.
C'mon, No Questions?
Regardless of how you decide to handle Q&A, you may be faced with no questions. People may really have no questions – you covered your material so thoroughly – or they may be reluctant to ask the first question. Consider planting a question with an audience member as an icebreaker. Simply ask someone you know in the audience to ask an easy beginning question. Some speakers pass out index cards to audience members, asking them to write one question on it. They then choose one card to start the Q&A.
You’ve prepared for questions and decided which Q&A format to use. Now the real work begins. Here are some tips for your next Q&A.
- Step away from the podium to signal that the more informal part of the session has begun.
- Assume a relaxed, open posture and a friendly expression. Avoid crossing your arms in front of you or packing up your things.
- Always repeat the question asked to ensure the entire audience hears it and that you have understood it correctly. Begin answers by looking at the individual audience member, but then move your eyes to the rest of the group to include everyone.
- Answers should be given in a way that offers insight to everyone rather than assisting an individual with a specific problem.
- Don’t be afraid to say ‘‘I don’t know.’’ Offer to get back to the person via phone or e-mail with the answer once you have it.
- Don’t spend too much time with one person. Offer to speak privately with them after the session if their question is too involved.
- Give notice when time is running out. A simple ‘‘We have time for two more questions’’ is fine
One mistake speakers often make is letting their sessions end with the last question. Always leave time for a quick, relevant story or a final review of key points. The audience’s last impression will be of a confident, friendly speaker.
Content from this post was originally published in the MetroWest Daily News and has been updated to reflect current best practices.