“By doubting we are led to question, by questioning we arrive at the truth,” said Peter Abelard. The French philosopher and theologian certainly knew what he was talking about.
At the end of any presentation comes the ever-present Q&A session. It’s never not present. You don’t just present and walk away. There will always be members of the audience who will ask for clarifications and/or just want to understand more.
And it’s your job to answer them. You’re already there onstage, presumably with a great visual aid you or an awesome PowerPoint design agency created, and you’re the one they’re addressing their questions to. Not to mention that your presentation made them think of these queries. If you don’t respond, apart from not getting the answers the audience wanted, it also makes you look unprofessional. Let’s set the difference though: purposefully not answering is not the same as not knowing the answer.
So what mistakes should you avoid during Q&As? Or at least keep in check? Here are some of them:
This can come from both sides: presenter and audience. It’s either they have no or no more questions or the presenter takes a long time to answer. Either way, silence can make the whole mood awkward.
If you’re having a mental block after the question is given, take a moment and pause. If you still don’t have an answer after a few seconds, you can always say, “Excuse me, but let me gather my thoughts for a few more seconds.” This honest move shows that you took the time to really think about your answer—which, in all fairness, you really did.
Tone of Voice
Be conscious of how you talk—not just how you pronounce your words but also how you say, in general, your speech. It’s not just about your intonation or where you place stresses and pauses (you know, for dramatic effect). It’s also how you make your message heard and felt.
The same goes for answering questions. If you come off too strong, the gesture may be seen as defensive; come off too weak and risk being thought of as a weak answerer. A friendly tone is the best tone to use and is also the most welcoming.
When faced with a long question, it doesn’t mean you need to respond with an answer of the same length; besides, long questions don’t warrant that. Instead, give your answer as straight and concise as you can.
You risk losing the attention of your audience the more you dwell on an answer—worse, you may even repeat points over and over again, putting into question your expertise on the subject. You’ve already got limited time as it is.
Speaking of diminishing subject-matter expertise, “Um,” “Well,” “You know,” and “Uh” will not help establish that. Repeating these filler words over and over will only serve to annoy your audience and damage your credibility, not to mention that they will also eat time.
Granted, no one can speak fluently without practice, especially with impromptu answers, but the best you could do is lessen these fillers. It’s always a good idea to take a pause and gather your thoughts, then speak.
Keeping your cool is already a given, especially if you’re onstage. If you’re thrown off by awkward questions, dissenting opinions, or even hecklers, that’s going to reflect on your general demeanor. Don’t let these situations—and many more—faze you.
Keep calm, and stay polite throughout the entire session. Once you lose your composure and try to pick a fight with a member of your audience, especially with hecklers, your night will just be ruined… and that’s the best you end up with. Don’t bring more harm to your credibility.
Closely linked to the last point, arguments, especially heated ones, will only end up wasting everybody’s time. It will also show that you’re defensive, combative, and hostile, three things (among others) you don’t want your audience thinking of you.
Instead, lead questions to the right track. If someone offers an opposing opinion, acknowledge the difference (because there’s really not much you can do after), and, if possible, offer a middle ground. Or just end with the acknowledgment and move on to the next question.
It’s not easy having a question and answer portion to end your presentation. Being a moderator comes with its own duties, responsibilities, and rules completely different from being a speaker. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll be acing both in no time.
Of course, preparation is a must. You’ve already prepared for the presentation; what’s stopping you from doing the same for the Q&A? You’re already the subject-matter expert, so it makes sense that you’re the one they’ll be asking questions from. Allay their fears and satisfy their curiosity. Answer them in the best way possible: your own.
Decker, Ben. “Avoid These Don’ts During Presentation Q&A Sessions.” PresentationXpert. n.d. www.presentationxpert.com/avoid-these-donts-during-qa-sessions
Greene, Charles III. “Presentation Skills: 5 Tips to Improve Your Q&A.” CharlesGreene.com. August 27, 2012. www.charlesgreene.com/2012/08/5-tips-to-improve-your-qa-sessions
Holtzclaw, Eric. “9 Tips for Handling a Q&A Session.” Inc. February 5, 2013. www.inc.com/eric-v-holtzclaw/9-tips-for-handling-a-qa-session.html
Posey, Cheryl. “The Importance of Using the Correct Tone of Voice.” SpeakingYouBestOnline.com. April 18, 2012. www.speakingyourbestonline.com/blog/the-importance-of-using-the-correct-tone-of-voice
Watts, Rich. “The Complete Guide to Handling Q&A Sessions.” LinkedIn Pulse. June 13, 2014. www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140613151624-131038283-the-complete-guide-to-handling-q-a-sessions
Windingland, Diane. “13 Tips for Handling a Question and Answer Session.” VirtualSpeechCoach.com. May 2, 2012. www.virtualspeechcoach.com/2012/05/02/12-tips-for-handling-a-question-and-answer-session
“Top Tips on Handling a Question and Answer Session.” University of Bedfordshire. December 2009. www.beds.ac.uk/knowledgehub/events/toptips/questionandanswer