www.wellsaid.comMarch 2014



"Are there any questions?" You've just concluded your presentation. Now it's time for the Question & Answer session. Wouldn't it be nice if you could say what Ronald Regan once said in jest, "Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement."  Instead, you pause, step forward, and invite your inquiring audience to speak. Many presenters with whom I work confess fear, uncertainty and doubt when facing the 'dreaded' Q&A session. Rest assured, when you're equipped with a few best practices, you can handle the situation with confidence and finesse. Please enjoy this month's article, and thank you for your readership. Best wishes for continued communication excellence!


Kind regards,


Twelve Tips for Handling Q&A with Confidence and Finesse

By Darlene Price, Well Said, Inc.
"It ain't over till it's over."
--Yogi Berra


You may have concluded the rehearsed portion of a powerful persuasive presentation, but "it ain't over" until you've successfully handled the unrehearsed part: your audience's questions and comments.  Though it may feel like you're in the 'hot seat,' the Q&A session is a golden opportunity for you to interact with your audience, address their concerns, build rapport, establish credibility, and reinforce your key messages. Here are twelve tips on how to optimize this critical aspect of presenting:


1. Prepare for probable questions. Take the time to predict and write down the questions your audience is likely to ask. Craft well thought-out answers and rehearse them aloud. Role-play with a colleague. This crucial prep step increases self-confidence and prevents an audience member from catching you off guard.


2. Prepare questions you want to answer. If the audience is awkwardly silent when you invite questions, use a prepared question to say, "One question I am often asked is . . ." Or, recruit 'plants' in the audience prior to your talk; have them ask you one of your prepared questions to jump start the Q&A session.


3. Convey a positive attitude. Adopt a mindset that embraces interaction with an audience. Welcome their questions, objections, and comments. It's the best way to understand their needs and show how you can help. Regardless of the questioner's attitude, remain composed, constructive, and courteous.


4. Display confident, open body language. When listening to the question, avoid crossing your arms, clenching your hands, stepping back, or losing eye contact with the questioner as he or she is speaking. Instead, step toward the person, maintaining good eye contact and engaged facial expressions. Nod your head occasionally to indicate that you hear and understand. Look calm, confident, and interested.


5. Listen carefully to the entire question. Interrupting the questioner may cause two errors: First, an answer that misses the mark and jeopardizes your credibility. Second, an attitude that may be perceived as rude or impatient. Show respect, interest and empathy by listening intently.


6. Repeat or paraphrase the question. This habit is the sign of a pro and offers several benefits: you ensure that everyone in the room hears the question; you give the questioner an opportunity to clarify his or her point in case you misunderstood; and it gives you more time to formulate your answer.


7. Avoid grading the question. Avoid rating a question as "good" or "great" for two reasons: A) It may be perceived as patronizing. As one executive retorted, "I only ask great questions." B) If you forget to rate another person's question, they'll wonder, "What was wrong with my question? Wasn't it great, too?" Instead, just repeat or paraphrase the question and provide a clear concise answer.


8. Follow the K.I.S.S. formula. Keep It Short and Simple. If a CEO asks a CFO, "Are our cash equivalents truly liquid?" the boss wants a definitive yes or no, not a down-in-the-weeds analysis. Strive for clear concise answers that take one minute or less. If the questioner wants more detail, he or she will ask.


9. Answer only the question that was asked. Many presenters dig a hole for themselves by bringing up information that was not requested. By carefully listening to the question and giving a brief direct answer, you can avoid opening up Pandora's box.


10. Address the entire audience when answering the question. As you begin to repeat the question and respond with an answer, be sure to address the entire audience. Avoid looking only at the questioner as this alienates other listeners. Transform your answers into compelling one-minute talks that engage everyone in the room.


11. Don't guess at the answer. Instead say, "I don't know the answer to that. I'll research it and let you know by this afternoon." Your proactive candor will mean more to your audience than guessing, rambling, or faking it. If appropriate, leverage the intelligence of the group--ask audience members if they know the answer.


12. Conclude the Q&A session with a compelling summary and call-to-action. Don't end the presentation on Q&A. "It ain't over" until you deliver a final riveting recap of your key points that's memorable and actionable. After thanking everyone for their questions and comments, move to the center, pause, and let the last thing you say be the message you want them to remember most.


If you would like to learn more about handling Q&A with confidence and finesse, or overall effective presentation skills, please read my book, Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results (available in hard cover and Kindle). 


Or contact me directly to schedule a training session for you and your team. I would be honored to support your speaking success! 

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