How many presentations that you’ve seen or given include a Q&A session? A lot, right? Q&A sessions are a great way to add clarity to your presentation, strengthen your human connection with your audience, and dazzle with your expertise. However, Q&A sessions are a double-edged sword: while they can enhance a strong presentation, they can also derail it just as easily. Here are a few tips to keep in mind the next time you’re facilitating a Q&A session.
Establish ground rules. During the “Housekeeping” section of your intro, be sure to address the Q&A portion of your presentation. Are audience members free to interrupt throughout, or would you rather all questions be held until the end? When your Q&A section starts, do audience members need to step up to a microphone? Remember: when presenting, you are the leader of the room. It’s up to you to establish these expectations and to enforce them accordingly. Doing so will keep your presentation running on time and maximize the impact of the Q&A.
Don’t answer every question. Do you have to answer every question asked of you? Of course not! Be empowered to decline answering a question for any of the following reasons:
- The question is off-topic. Sure, it might be an interesting question, but it may eat up valuable presentation time. Put it in the parking lot instead — literally (on a white board, flip chart, etc.), or figuratively (audience members can “park” the question in their minds), to be answered later if time permits.
The question is only relevant to one person. Take it off-line instead. Meet them after the presentation to discuss, start an email correspondence — whatever enables you to answer the question without squandering precious presentation minutes.
- You don’t know the answer. It is always better to admit ignorance than to feign brilliance. You can certainly follow up with the questioner later, but this is also a great opportunity to open the question to another team member or group.
The topic is addressed later. Politely inform the questioner as such and move on.
Use bookends. This is a tried-and-true system that helps organize your thoughts and can buy you a little time. Quite simply, tell your audience what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you’ve just told them. Here’s a simple example of how bookending would sound in your Q&A:
“Sam, your question was ‘If you won a million dollars, what would you do with the money?’ I’d have to say, if I won a million dollars, I’d pay off all my debts, buy a house for my parents, and contribute to charity. The reason I chose these three things is . . . So that’s what I’d do with a million dollars: get out of debt, buy my folks a home, and write a big fat check to Doctors Without Borders.”
Q&A can be a scary proposition, but if you sharpen your facilitation skills, it doesn’t have to be. Try implementing some of the tips above for your next Q&A session and see if it helps things flow a little more smoothly.