Surviving Q&A (10/19)

(Our nostalgic trip down memory lane this month replays a popular 10/2019 piece on surviving audience questions. Many of the best practices still work in the era of Zoom presentations. They’ll all work again when we’re safely back in the land of face-to-face. Enjoy …)

This deep dive discusses how to handle audience questions. What you do … and don’t do … with them has a critical impact on your results, often more than the overall message content itself. Here are some ‘Do & Don’t’ Best Practices to help you Survive and Thrive during the Audience Q&A.

• Look directly at the questioner and listen intently for the concept or main idea behind the question. This helps you deal with the actual question, not the first few words. Wait patiently until the person finishes.

• Don’t jump in with your answer. Make sure you know what the question is really all about. If you’re not sure, ask for clarification.

• Don’t thank them for the question or indicate, “That’s a good question.” These contrived attempts at courtesy don’t accomplish anything except taking time away from your answers. If it was that good a question, you should have answered it during your presentation. And either phrase can become annoyingly repetitious.

• Do break visually with the person and look at someone else. This avoids the appearance of a one-to-one dialogue and suggests to the audience that the question and your answer have value for all of them.

• Don’t say, “The question is…” Simply repeat it if it’s short or simple or begin the answer with the content of the question. For example, if the question is ‘What’s the ROI of this project?’ begin your answer with ‘The ROI of this project is … ‘ rather then starting with the answer, ‘23%’.

• With longer or more complex questions, rephrase them. You can also gently take some of the ‘zing’ out of ‘zinger’ questions, but don’t try to turn a negative question into a positive one.

• Pause for a moment to collect your thoughts. Harness the Power of Silence – it helps you look like you’re actually thinking.

• Answer as briefly as possible. If the questioner wants more details, let him or her ask for more. Since you anticipated the FAQs and prepared concise answers for them, you’ll be ready for that follow up or drill down question.

 Don’t ask, “Did I answer your question?” Why imply possible incompetence? Of course you answered the question. But, if it didn’t satisfy the questioner, it’s up to him or her to say so and re-frame the question.

• If you don’t know the answer, say so, but indicate you’ll get back to the questioner with it and when. As alternatives to saying ‘I don’t know …’, consider ‘I’m not sure …’, ‘I don’t have that information with me … ‘or ‘I don’t remember … ‘. These phrases are less likely to take away from the credibility that you worked so hard to earn during your presentation.

• If you’re taking questions at or near the end, manage your time and give the audience a heads-up that there’s time for one or two more. This courteous tactic can encourage the audience to rethink whether they want to ask another question.

The Q&A section of your Workplace Presenter Tool Kit should include several useful strategies and tactics for what to say – and not say – in answering them. With enough focused planning, you can anticipate 90% of the questions 90% of the audience will ask 90% of the time and craft appropriate answers. And that ‘90%’ should be good enough for at least an ‘A-‘, if not an ‘A’, depending on the curve.

Now … you’re ready to Survive and Thrive the Q&A. Any questions?