Seven Rules Of Engagement For Managing Q&A (Part Two)
In yesterday’s post, you learned the first four rules of engagement for managing the all-important Q&A period. In today’s post, you’ll learn three more.
5. Keep Your Answers Brief
You’ve worked hard during your presentation to remain focused on your big shiny object and choose your words with precision. Apply that same discipline to the audience Q&A, and avoid the far-too-common problem of speakers who offer six-minute rambles where 30-second answers would suffice.
Long answers chill the room. Audience members are quick to detect the pattern of a speaker who offers seemingly endless answers—and their questions quickly dry up when they realize further questions would subject them to another interminable monologue.
Keep your answers short. Aim for one minute or less. If you’re generally successful at keeping your answers succinct, the audience will forgive an occasional extended response.
6. Draw Out Your Audience
When speakers ask their audience for questions, they often see a collection of blank stares facing back at them. That moment is understandably difficult for many presenters—two seconds of quiet feels like an eternity—so they conclude that the audience has nothing to say and end the session after just a few seconds of silence.
As a professional presenter, I’ve encountered audiences that are quieter than others. But almost all of them can be drawn out—if you create a climate that encourages interaction.
Let’s say you begin by asking, “What questions or thoughts do you have about my proposal?” No one responds. Here are a few things you could try next:
Wait: People detest a vacuum. Long silences are uncomfortable. If you simply stand confidently and wait, someone in the audience will usually speak up.
Ask the Audience a Question: If no one speaks up after several seconds of silence, you can ask the audience a question. (“During my presentation, I mentioned one possible approach to raise more money from donors by selling licensed merchandise. What advantages or disadvantages do you see with that approach?”) If no one responds, you can call on a few people.
Prompt the First Question: To ease the audience in, you can bring up and answer a question that you’re often asked about your topic—or a question that you had to contemplate when developing your presentation.
End the Session: Gracefully thank your audience, deliver your second close, and invite the audience to approach you with any thoughts or questions after the session ends. Don’t assume that the audience’s lack of feedback was a sign of failure (and don’t convey, through your words or body language, that you thought it was). You may have been so effective in delivering your presentation that they understood it thoroughly and are processing your information. To help determine the root cause of your audience’s silence, analyze why you didn’t receive input by reflecting upon your presentation, speaking to the meeting planner or a few participants to discuss what worked and what didn’t, and evaluating the results of your post-presentation survey.
7. Assign Roles For Team Presentations
If you’re presenting as part of a team, decide in advance which team members will answer questions about which topics. For example, you might assign questions about a project’s timeline to Susan, the project’s cost to Rick, and the project’s architectural design to Raheem. Doing so helps prevent the awkwardness of deciding in front of the audience who should answer which questions.
Also, resist the urge to add something to an answer given by a co-presenter if they offered a sufficient response. Too often, team members compete for “talk time” by unnecessarily adding their thoughts to another team member’s answer, which can slow down the Q&A period.
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