12 Public Speaking & Presentation Tips For Q&A Success

5 people holding hands up

You’ve crafted your presentation mindfully, internalised your message and practiced delivering it, all that’s left is focusing on Q&A success.

Your anxiety is heighted in the belief that the one thing that might undermine your credibility and reputation is your ability to answer questions effectively.

You are mindful of the fact that Q&A success is a critical part of your presentation and that so much depends on you answering questions confidently and concisely.

What if?

– There are no questions

– You don’t understand the question

– It’s a hostile or emotionally charged question

– You don’t know the answer

– Your audience have more knowledge than you

It will happen

There will come a time when you could face all of these challenges.

The key to preparing for Q&A success is not worrying about them or ignoring them but preparing for them.

One of the most common questions we are asked in our public speaking & presentation skills workshops is, ‘How do I answer questions more effectively?

12 Public Speaking Tips & Presentation Tips For Q&A Success

  1. Reframe them

Our Q&A success is strongly influenced by the way we perceive questions before they are even asked.

We have a choice. We can see the Q&A session as:

– A court room where the prosecutor is trying to trip you up

– A knowledge parade to show your audience how clever you are

– A blood sport where you see your audience as predators and you as their prey

Alternatively, we can see the Q&A session as:

– Our audience expressing their interest in our topic and an opportunity for us to strengthen our connection with them.

– An opportunity for us to learn more. Questions are an opportunity to develop our knowledge further as well as our audiences.

– The space to open up a meaningful conversation with our audience.

  1. Envision them

Spend some time in the quiet and comfort of your own mind anticipating questions by envisioning them. In other words, for every fact, idea and insight you prepare to share, imagine someone in your audience asking you a question about it.

Picture someone stopping you at any time during your presentation. Imagine them asking you questions about that fact, idea or insight that you had never given any thought to previously.

Don’t wait for it to happen, prepare for it in advance .

Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and anticipate possible questions.

Imagine your audience took all of your information away and had time to think about it fully. Write down the most common questions that might come up.

What if there are no questions?

Envision getting to the point in your presentation where you openly invite questions from your audience. Imagine there aren’t any questions and you are greeted with an uncomfortable silence.

Don’t panic. You have a couple of choices:

– If you’d like to try to encourage questions, have a couple of your own prepared in advance.

‘ Here’s a question I’m often asked which hasn’t been raised here but may be on someone’s mind.’

– Invite questions later. Assure your audience that if any questions do arise at any point in the future, to feel free to contact you directly to share them with you. If you will be around after the presentation, invite them to come and speak with you then if a question pops into their mind.

– If neither of these work for you, don’t be afraid of the silence. Give you audience a few moments, acknowledge the silence and then close with impact.

  1. Don’t end on a Q&A

Have you noticed that many presentations are actually closed with the words, ‘Are there any questions?’

Occasionally, a presenter’s final slide will even have the word QUESTIONS appear in big bold letters.

When you close your presentation on a Q&A you are arguably leaving your audience walking away from your presentation with someone else’s voice.

What if the final question is:

– An emotionally charged one

– A hostile question

– Someone’s hidden agenda

– A stupid question (please don’t believe the adage, ‘there’s no such thing as a stupid question’

Even if it’s a great question, don’t leave your audience with someone else’s voice. It’s yours they came to hear.

The solution

For Q&A success, invite questions towards the end of your presentation but not right at the very end.

In other words, don’t make it the last thing you do.

When the time comes, don’t ask if there are any questions. Try this instead, ‘What questions do you have?’

  1. Don’t state a specific time or number

When you are ready to invite questions don’t make the mistake of specifying an exact amount of time or number of questions you plan to answer; it could backfire:

– You’ve stated that you have 15 minutes for questions and there aren’t any, or you only need 5 minutes.

– What if there are so many questions that you run out of time?

– Imagine running out of time and the very last question is a complex or emotionally charged one.

– You’ve said you have time for 3 questions. One of them is particularly challenging and requires a detailed answer.

– The last question is a hostile, difficult question or one you just don’t know the answer to.

When you are ready to invite questions just own the Q&A and do what’s appropriate in the time and environment you have.

  1. Listen carefully

It feels a little patronizing to state the obvious, which is that it’s critical that we listen carefully to the entire question before attempting to answer it.

Have you noticed that some people wait to speak, rather than actually listen fully to the question before beginning to answer it?

Some presenters will even begin answering the question before the questioner has finished speaking.

Don’t be in a rush to answer the question. Your Q&A success will depend upon you staying fully present and attentive while the question is being asked.

Make sure you understand the question. If you are in any doubt, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification before thinking about answering it.

Repeat the question to the entire audience

Don’t assume that the rest of the audience have heard or understood the question, especially if it’s a larger group or a lengthy question.

Repeat the question so that everyone in the room is clear on exactly what was asked. If the question was a little longwinded, complex or detailed this gives you the opportunity to simplify and rephrase it for your audience whilst checking in with the questioner.

  1. Follow ABCD

Answer – Back up – Confirm –Depersonalize

Answer – once you’re clear you fully understand the question, answer it directly. Don’t thank the audience for the question, tell them what a great question it is or ramble, just answer the question.

Back up – support your answer where appropriate with a viewpoint, evidence or example of why you are confident in your answer.

Confirm – Check in to ensure that you’ve answered the question and that your answer is understood.

Depersonalize – If it’s a hostile, emotionally charged or argumentative question, don’t take it personally. Remain calm, take a deep breath and depersonalize the question.

Avoid being over defensive, answer the question as honestly and as professionally as you can.

  1. Take care of your audience

Have you noticed that it’s so easy to get so caught up in answering a question that you forget about the rest of your audience?

Your Q&A success depends on how you answer the question not just to the person who asked it but the rest of the audience too.

Avoid a direct and lengthy dialogue between you and the questioner

Step in

If you are presenting standing up, step forward into the question. This exudes confidence rather than being on the ‘back foot’. If you are presenting sitting down, lean forward into the question.

Breathe & smile

As you step or lean in to the question, simultaneously take a mindful breath and smile.

Connect with everyone

As you being answering the question, make initial eye contact with the person who asked the question. Don’t stay there for too long though or feel trapped. As you answer the question, shift your eye contact to include the rest of the audience.

Once you’ve answered the question to everyone, return your eye contact to the person who asked the question.

  1. It’s fine to say that you don’t know the answer

The moment you think you know the answer to everything you are doing yourself and your audience a disservice. If your boss expects you to know the answer to every conceivable question and will not accept, ‘I don’t know’ as an answer, it may be a sign that it’s time to look for a new job.

It’s perfectly acceptable to say that you don’t know the answer to a question.

It’s how you say so that matters

Be honest

Whatever happens, don’t feel compelled to bluff your way through the question by making up an answer.

Respond calmly by saying, ‘I don’t know the answer to that, but it’s something I will look into and come back to you on with an answer.’

There are other ways you could respond, if appropriate:

Ask the audience

‘I don’t know the answer to that question but I’m mindful of the fact that there is a wealth of experience in the room and wonder whether anyone else in the audience does. Can anyone help answer that question?’

Share a thought

You may not have the answer but you may have a view. Share a thought or perspective on the question if you have one.

‘I don’t know the answer to that question, but I’ll find out and let you know. In the meantime. I have a thought on the issue. Please keep in mind that it’s not the answer to your question as I’ve already stated I don’t know the answer but here is a thought…

What’s your view on that?’

Ask for a moment

If you need a little time to think about the question, ask for it.

‘I need a few moments to think about that.’

This also take a little courage but remember, you don’t need to rush in to giving an answer.

Give yourself a little time to think. Your audience will respect you for it.

  1. Don’t say, ‘that’s a good question’

It’s a ubiquitous response that is often perceived as being insincere, even if it isn’t.

It’s often a throwaway response which can do more harm than good. Imagine the following situations:

– Someone asks a question and you respond by saying, ‘That’s a really good question, I’m glad you asked it.’ The person who asked a different question a few moments earlier may be thinking, ‘What about my question, I gave it a lot of thought and it took me some courage to ask it; wasn’t mine a good question?’

The next person who asks a question may be thinking the same thing if you don’t tell them that theirs is a good question.

It may put other people off asking questions if their isn’t acknowledged as a good question.

– What if it’s not a good question and everyone one else in the room is thinking why on earth does the presenter see that as a good question?

It’s not helpful for us as presenter’s to evaluate the merit or quality of a question, we just need to answer it.

  1. Get to know the hecklers or critics

Many of us have worked and presented in environments where everyone knows who will be dominating the room with difficult questions. It’s often not too difficult to find out who the dissenters are likely to be long before you begin presenting.

In either situation, if possible, make it your business to find out who they are and get to know them before your presentation. Contact them before hand and find out as much as you can about:

– How they feel about the topic, idea or issue

– What questions, concerns or objections they may have around it

– How you may be able to help them specifically

Don’t leave it to chance. If you have concerns about specific people compromising or exhausting the Q&A element of your presentation, get to know them beforehand.

  1. Learn from ‘The scary six

If you are really concerned about your presentation being hijacked or completely derailed by the Q&A, prepare in advance by setting up the following scenario.

Surround yourself with a small group of people you trust and respect. Share your presentation with them giving each person a specific role:

The Devil’s advocate

Ask them to be contentious, oppose your view and challenge the strength of your presentation.

The sniper

Their role is to criticize you and to create an atmosphere of hostility and distrust.

The energy thief

Get them to look for a negative aspect of everything you say.

The know all

Encourage them to actively demonstrate that they know more than you on the topic.

The honest

Let them tell you in the most respectful way that they don’t agree with you.

The wanderer

Get them to demonstrate that they haven’t listened to a word you said.

It’s not an exercise for the faint hearted because it takes courage.

It is, however, an investment worth making.

Once the scary six have taken you and your presentation apart, take another look at your presentation.

As painful and as strange as it may sound, remember it’s not real and it won’t happen. You, however, will be prepared for anything.

  1. Watch your body language

As you can see, your Q&A success isn’t dependent solely on the level of knowledge you have and your ability to share it verbally. Our body language matters a great deal too.

Our reputation and credibility also depends on how we manage and respond to questions physically and emotionally.

That begins with conveying open body language which exudes confidence.

When listening to and answering questions:

– Stand with your feet should or hip width apart, stay grounded and poised.

– Avoid crossing your arms or legs.

– Make eye contact with the questioner and also the rest of the audience.

– Take a breath and smile before you answer.

– Step or lean toward your audience rather than away from them.

– Nod your head occasionally to demonstrate understanding.

– Let your face speak too, look interested and don’t be afraid to express yourself.

Many presenter get really anxious about asking an audience if they have any questions after their presentation. I’ve shared some of the reasons for this.

The good news is that we can all can prepare ourselves to not only manage questions confidently and effectively but to ensure Q&A success by following some of these helpful tips.

If you’d like help ensuring Q&A success:

– Book yourself onto a powerful public speaking course.

– Invest in some really good one to one public speaking coaching.

– Get yourself some excellent presentation training

Image courtesy of Canva.com


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