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Handling the Q&A Session

This lesson is a part of an audio course How to Present Like a Professional Speaker by Andy Edwards

In the last lesson, you learned a very important technique. You tell the audience that, before you deliver your final thoughts, you wonder if there are any questions. This allows you to deliver the final message and leave the audience on a high – rather than fizzling out after the last question has been asked.

As part of the talk's conclusion, it is important to handle your Q & A session well – because it is a well-remembered element of the talk… so in this lesson, we look at what can go wrong – and how to put it right. Because too many non-professional or occasional speakers make at least one of these 5 mistakes.

Taking too long to answer a question. Don't ramble!! If the question has a long answer, say so – and then give the 'headlines.' Something like…Great question – the simple answer is 'Yes' Extroverts DO tend to behave in the way you describe… however, there are a number of circumstances when that wouldn't apply – under stress for instance… but that's a whole new talk… perhaps next year's conference? Smile and move on.

Failing to ask for clarification. Imagine responding for two minutes or more, providing a perfect answer – only to be then told by the questioner, "That's not really what I'm asking!". This knocks your credibility – and control of the sessions. Do you now give another two minutes answering the question that was meant – or apologise and move on? Either way, it doesn't look good for you. There is a confidence and self-control present when you say, "Can I ask you to clarify…" or "Are you asking … then reflect your understanding of the question." You'll come across as very professional. And, of course, address the real issue being raised.

Answering a personal question. Occasionally someone will ask a very specific question that related to themselves but few other people in the room. Identify this and ask that they speak to you separately about it – for instance, at coffee – or that they email you direct, and you'll happily answer their specific question. If you're feeling particularly confident, say that you understand why they have asked the question – which is a good one, but that the answer or the circumstances don't relate to many others – then explain that you'll answer personally.

If you don't know say so. As an expert, you are expected to know all the answers – however, if a question genuinely stumps you, say so. This will delight the questioner as you say that you really don't have a clue… but – and here's the important bit… say "How about I find out and contact you direct… ask for a card or to touch base after your talk ends. Move on quickly…

Keep an eye on the clock. I've already warned you about the dangers of rambling on… and it is the Q & A that can easily push an occasional speaker over their allotted time. If your Q & A session is overly successful, manage the audiences expectations as you say, "I think there's time for one more question…" Then, having answered the final question, explain that you will be around for the rest of the conference, lunch time, coffee break etcetera – and that you'd be pleased to answer any other questions in person. If you are NOT staying, then invite any remaining questions to be asked directly to you via email.

Another couple of tips would be to thank each questioner… don't keep repeating good question but let them know that the question was appreciated. Also, it's good practice that, when you finish your answer, ask, "Does that answer your question?" or "Does that help?" Not necessarily every time – but, again, it transfers an air of authority, control, and confidence.

Then as the questions dry up – or you have answered our final question, say your version of "Thanks for such a great set of questions, and now, I would like to leave you with these final thoughts… and then hit them with your big finish. I'm going to give you two examples. The first one is something that I might say as I finish a talk about behavioural impact… the second is one I heard delivered by an sustainability manager who spoke on the negative effects of disposable plastics on the environment. First mine:

"I'd like to leave you with these final thoughts, when it comes to treating people the way YOU like to be treated, just recognise how wrong that can be… From now on and to help others say the sweetest things about you when you're not there… treat others – not the way YOU like to be treated, but the way THEY like to be treated."

Thank you for listening…

You may simply reinforce your conclusion piece and call to action… something like this guy did at a recent conference I spoke at:

"Remember… it is up to all of us as individuals to change our attitude and behaviour towards plastic packaging. When you get home tonight, at least commit to just ONE change you and your family could make. As David Attenborough said recently…

Humans have taken over the earth and the sea and the sky, but with skill and care and knowledge, we can ensure that there is still a place on Earth for life in all its beauty and variety – if we want to – and surely, we should want to."

BOOM! He just nailed his environmental talk!

Have a think about your final thoughts… script them out so that it becomes a rich and powerful ending. Practice it using pauses, variable volume, and intonation. Remember, as the last thing you say – it should be your most memorable moment.

In the next section, we talk about your visual aids – whether that's something tangible you want the audience to see – or your power point slides.

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Written by

Andy Edwards

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