Making the most of Q&A sessions

By Marjorie Brody, Founder & CEO, BRODY Professional Development

You’re pumped. The presentation you just gave was received very well. You really won the audience over. Loud applause is coming from all directions.

However, the end of your presentation does not necessarily come when you finish speaking. After your summation you still have another opportunity to face your audience, during the question-and-answer session.

The question-and-answer period will also have an impact on your audience. This is an opportunity for you to further clarify your ideas. You don’t want to give the audience the impression that you are relieved that your presentation is over and all you want to do is leave.

If you are giving a training session or a presentation, it probably makes sense to take questions during your presentation. Don’t get too far ahead of yourself. If someone asks a question that you will be covering later in your presentation, tell them so. You must also avoid a lengthy response to a question which may disturb your train of thought and the audience’s ability to concentrate.

Handling hostility
As a presenter, you may find yourself facing a hostile questioner. Your skill at disarming verbal attacks will reflect on your credibility with the audience and the impression they have of both you and your presentation. The following approach works well to diffuse the hostile questioner:

  • Let them say what they want to say. You listen.
  • Paraphrase what they have just said, and how they feel about it, without being condescending.
  • Ask probing questions to try to find out what the real issues are.
  • Say one of the following statements:
  • “I know what your issues are, now let me respond.”
  • “Let’s problem solve together to work this out.”
  • “Let’s look into this after the presentation has concluded.”

By using this approach, you have indicated that you value the thoughts and feelings of the questioner. The audience will respect you, and you will diffuse the hostility at the same time.

When your presentation is over, and the questions have stopped, or time is up, it’s time to conclude. Don’t make the mistake of giving a simple “thank you” and leaving the podium. Revert to your closing statement, or talk about next steps. Your closing should not be lengthy, but it should wrap things up neatly, and end on a positive note.

Q&A success
Here are some rules to guide you through the process of a successful Q&A.

  • Early in your presentation, tell the audience when you will be taking questions; you may ask them to write questions down to save for the end; to ask throughout your presentation, or at specific breaking points during the presentation.
  • Before answering, listen carefully and paraphrase the question before you respond. You can also include the question as part of your response.
  • Look at the questioner in the beginning, then look at the entire audience when answering.
  • Call on experts in the audience when appropriate, but take back control after they have responded.
  • Keep all answers as brief as possible.
  • Tell those with multiple questions that aren’t relevant to the entire group that you will respond either at the end of the session or later to them in writing or by telephone.
  • Don’t let a stage hog take control.
  • Don’t tell a lie. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so and offer to get the information for the questioner
  • End the question-and-answer period with a strong closing remark.

Copyright 2008 Marjorie Brody. Marjorie is an author, Hall of Fame speaker, and coach to Fortune 1,000 executives. She is CEO of BRODY Professional Development, a business communication and presentation skills company that offers tailored training programs, workshops, keynote presentations, and executive coaching. BRODY serves clients such as Microsoft, Pfizer, New York Life Insurance, Johnson & Johnson, JPMorgan Chase, NBC Universal, GlaxoSmithKline, Citi Private Bank, and many trade associations. For more information on booking Marjorie or a BRODY training program, visit www.BrodyPro.com or www.MarjorieBrody.com. Or, call (215) 886-1688.

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