#7: Best Of The Mr. Media Training Blog 2014
This post, “Seven Rules of Engagement for Managing Audience Q&A,” was published on April 8, 2014.
Too often, speakers spend weeks carefully crafting their presentations but fail to prepare adequately for their audience’s questions. As a result, they deliver a successful presentation only to become derailed during the question and answer interaction.
One bad response can be all it takes for speakers to diminish—or even reverse—the good impression they established during their presentation. This week, we’ll focus on the question and answer period to make sure you take advantage of those critical minutes.
1. Set Time Expectations
If your presentation doesn’t have a firm ending time, tell the audience for how long you intend to take questions. If the audience knows you’ll wrap up the session in 15 minutes, they’re less likely to be distracted by the phone call they have to make, their biological needs (“When can I go to the bathroom already?), or their growing hunger.
If you don’t tell them, they’ll become uneasy, as they don’t know whether they’ll be stuck in the room with you for 10 minutes or an hour. You can eliminate this step if your session is time limited—the audience will understand that a 50-minute conference breakout session will predictably end at 50 minutes past the hour.
2. Invite Audience Participation Using The Right Phrases
When most speakers open the floor to questions, they ask, “Does anyone have a question?” That question often fails to elicit a response. One reason is that whereas only a few people in your audience may have a question, many more likely have thoughts, opinions, or comments about the material you presented. You can encourage more participation if you use those words when soliciting feedback from your audience instead of—or alongside—the word “question.”
Ken Molay, president of the firm Webinar Success, says that another problem with the “Does anyone have a question” approach is that it doesn’t place personal responsibility onto any single member of the audience to act. As better alternatives, he advises clients to change that question to “Do you have a question?” or “What are your thoughts?” Although those questions can be addressed to the full audience, the use of the pronoun you may prompt a more active response.
An even stronger cue, Molay says, is to give the audience a direct command to take action in a specific way: “Now it’s your turn to guide the discussion. What should I clarify or go into more detail on?”
3. Repeat the Question or Comment
There’s usually no need to repeat (or summarize) an audience member’s comment or question when speaking to smaller groups in smaller rooms, or in larger groups when questioners use a microphone.
But repeating an audience member’s question is imperative when: The audience size or room is large enough that some people might not hear the question; the person asking the question is soft-spoken; or the session is being recorded and questioners do not use a microphone.
You don’t have to repeat back each question in its entirety, but make sure you include the heart of the question in your summarized version.
4. Avoid Negative Language
Neurophysiologist Rick Hanson writes that, “Your body generally reacts more intensely to negative stimuli than to equally strong positive ones…Negative stimuli produce more neural activity than do equally intense positive ones.” Since negative words or experiences tend to be more memorable than positive ones, it’s best to remove any negative language when restating a question posed by an audience member.
For example, a member of the audience—a person who rents apartments from your management company—might say, “We’ve been complaining about the noise for a year, and you’ve done nothing about it. It’s obvious that all you care about is money.”
When repeating back the comment to the audience, don’t say:
“She says that all we care about is money and that we haven’t addressed the noise problem.”
Instead, strip away the negative language when restating the comment:
“I understand that you’re concerned about the noise. Let me tell you what we’ve done to address the noise problem.”
Click here for part two of this post!