Mastering the Q & A Session

Written by Pam Chambers

Speakers usually look forward to the question and answer session. Its exciting when people show interest in your topic.

But if you dont handle this well, the presentation can end on a weak note. Here are some challenges and how to handle them.

There arent any questions. Imagine: Youve generously saved 10 minutes for questions, but there arent any. Instead of, Do you have any questions? ask, What questions do you have about this, that, or the other? This assumes that they have questions, and that now is the time to ask them.

What questions do you have? Still nothing?

Without stammering, blushing, or encouraging pity, say, A common question is _______. The answer is ______.

Any other questions? (Still nothing?)

Yesterday someone asked me _________. The answer is ______.

By this time, people are thinking, Oh, I get it. Questions and answers! Then they get involved. This method always works.

You dont know the answer.There are two ways to not know the answer: the wimpy way and the confident way. Instead of cringing and weakly confessing that you dont know, be bold. Now thats something I dont know. But I know exactly where to find the answer for you, and I will! Its OK not to know everything.

Nothing can be more unnerving than a hostile question from the audience. Believe it or not, its possible to accept, and even appreciate, a heckler. Heres the ideal attitude: This is a helper disguised as a jerk.

Repeat the question to the entire group. This shows that you are willing to face the question. It allows you to buy time to collect yourself so that you dont respond weakly or with anger.

Respond to the question, continuing to look at several people in the audience. If you respond only to the person who asked the question, you remain connected to the hostility and lose your power.

Thank the person who asked the question and acknowledge his or her contribution. Chances are, other people were wondering the same thing. It’s possible that because of that question, your presentation was more complete than it would otherwise have been. When you publicly acknowledge hecklers, they get the attention they want.

Once a man in my audience rudely asked, Why should we listen to you? What are your credentials? What a great question! Though I didnt love his tone of voice, inwardly I was thrilled. I got to talk about my work without appearing to brag. I gained credibility, and was sincerely grateful for his contribution. If you retaliate against a heckler, the audience will turn against you. You must remain dignified, generous, and gracious.

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