public speaking q&a

One of the most important parts of any presentation or public speaking session is Q&A. This is your opportunity to demonstrate the practicality and usefulness of your remarks, and your mastery of the material. After all, you don’t know what anyone will ask, so in the audience’s eyes you’re working without a net. Most people will conclude that only someone who’s very confident of their knowledge will put themselves in that risky position.

From a sales standpoint, Q&A is even more important because you show that you’re approachable, and that there’s more to your topic than can be covered in your time onstage. If you’ve chosen your subject well, there will be more questions than you can address in the time available. The way that you handle the public Q&A encourages others to approach you afterward, particularly those who aren’t comfortable posing a question in open forum, either because of their personality or because what they want to ask is somewhat sensitive or proprietary. Most post-address questions are from people asking you about the company-specific version of the problem or challenge about which you spoke. “I like how you look at this issue. Our company’s situation is a bit different…”

This is the bridge between marketing (your presentation) and selling (helping someone make a good decision about a problem or challenge). This is the optimal outcome for any speech or presentation. It’s why you’re up there on the podium.

The risk for speakers is losing control of the Q&A. Here's how to stay in control:

  • First, never, as in NEVER, end with Q&A. You’ve done a great job, delivering useful info to the audience, and establishing yourself as an expert. You don’t want a questioner hijacking the forum with a pet peeve, or raising something inflammatory that leaves the audience with a bad feeling. Audiences remember the last thing they hear or experience, and you don't want to leave the audience with something negative. Always retain a few minutes to end the way you want to, i.e., by reinforcing the key points of your presentation, closing the loop and showing that you accomplished what you promised them in your opening statement.
  • Raise your hand and ask "Any questions?" That sets the ground rules. Questioners now know to raise a hand to be acknowledged. You exercise control by picking the questioner.
  • Acknowledge questioners by gesturing toward them and describing them so that other would-be questioners in close proximity know to whom you’ve given the floor. “Yes, ma’am. The lady in the second row, near the end.” It’s more polite to gesture with an open, extended palm to indicate your selection, rather than pointing a finger.
  • Look directly at the questioner and listen closely to the question. Also, listen for the issue behind the question. Ask yourself, "What is this person after?" If you don't understand the question, ask for clarification.
  • When the questioner has finished, break eye contact. Look out over the audience before you respond, signaling that your answer is of interest to everybody.
  • Unless questioners are using a microphone, assume that not everyone heard the question clearly. Restate or rephrase the question so that everyone hears it. Simplify a more complex query so that everyone can understand it. Recast a hostile question in neutral language.
  • Look back at the questioner when you start your answer, and tie your answer to your presentation. This allows you to check on audience reaction--and to reinforce the main points you made.
  • Before taking the next question, confirm with this questioner that you’ve answered her question. “Does that answer your question?”
  • Raise your hand to recognize the next questioner. This gesture indicates that the previous question has been answered and that you’re ready to take the next one.

After your summation and closure, don’t thank the audience for their time and attention. I know this seems counter-intuitive because everyone always ends with "Thank you." If you’ve done your job right, they should be thanking you for providing valuable clarity and insight into an issue they care about. Instead, create a bridge to offline questioning. “You’ve been a very stimulating audience. Unfortunately, there’s never enough time for Q&A, so I’ll stick around to answer any other questions you might have. Or, use the contact information on screen to call or email me. (Your last screen should contain only your name, company name, website URL, phone number, email address, Twitter handle, and LinkedIn profile ID.

Mike O’Horo

RainmakerVT’s interactive online training will help you master networking, public speaking, sales calls, writing articles and speeches, and all of the other marketing/sales challenges that lawyers face. Take a look at the course list and get started making life easier.