Handling the Q & A Session

Don’t Answer to the Questioner

Of all the do’s and don’ts in handling the Question and Answer sessions in your group speaking, the most important is that you do NOT answer to the questioner. Start your answer to the person asking the question, but then broaden your answer by moving your eye communication to other members of the audience.

This is counter-intuitive, but it really makes sense when you think about your purpose. When you have a group, you want to be relevant to the entire group. If you keep your eyes on the person while you answer the question you will be in a closed feedback loop, and will concentrate on the relevance to the questioner as you look at them. What if it’s a narrow focus, technical question, or a gender oriented question. You will tend to stay in the narrow focus and gender – and thus lose half or more of your audience.

And if you have a hostile questioner, it’s even worse. You will be looking at your hostile questioner, probably get defensive with a frown, trying to make yourself right, and you’re in a NEGATIVE closed feedback loop – and a destructive one at that.

Start your answer to the questioner, then look at others in your audience (with your good 5-second eye communication) and you will tend to broaden your answer to include everyone you are looking at. You will also be able to think more agilely, be more relevant, be shorter in your answer, and not be tempted to ask the questioner, “Is that OK? Did I answer your question?” (That common habit tends to continue the closed conversation with the one questioner.)

When you answer to the audience you can also be more adept at “Linking Thinking,” which is taking any stimulus (a question for example) and linking it to your positive Point Of View, or benefit, or some example that will further your purpose.

The Q&A session can be very productive, if short and held at the end (but before the close) of your presentations. Here are some more of the Do’s and Don’ts of the Question and Answer session (and remember this is speaking to groups, not the interview Q & A session or one-on-one):

DO’S

1. Encourage questions by leaning or stepping forward.

2. Listen to and look at the questioner.

3. Use the question to further your POV.

4. Answer to the entire audience.

5. Be brief and cooperative.

6. Include a final closing after your Q & A session.

DON’TS

1. Don’t say “Good question”.

2. Don’t unnecessarily repeat the question.

3. Don’t argue.

4. Don’t posture.

5. Don’t change from your original presentation style.

If you have any questions…

6 comments on “Handling the Q & A Session

  1. NEVER do a review of the Q&A session. First of all, the Q&A should be shorter rather than longer – most questions are narrow focus. (I was just in a conference presentation this morning that had a long Q&A session and I was tuned out on more than half the questions since they weren’t in my areas of interest (and the presenter did not use some of the Do’s and Don’ts above.)
    USE the Q&A Session to further your Point Of View. If you are going to do a review (which I do not necessarily recommend without some Action Steps and SHARP’s) do it after the Q&A session.
    Then give your close – your main point or call to action. End with a bang, not a whimper. That’s why #6 is there.
    Thanks,
    Bert

  2. This is a great post. Q&A always seems to be the most difficult section of any presentation. Assuming a presenter does a preview and review, what would you recommend for Do #6? Some Q&As can last 15 minutes plus where off topic material can destroy the “golden nuggets” or items you wanted them to take away. Should the presenter do the original review with different verbage or do a review of the Q&A discussion? Thanks!

  3. Good question!
    (Actually it’s fine to say Good Question in any one-on-one communication – written or verbal. It’s the group speaking where it is not advised.)
    The main reason is if you say Good Question to one person – you have to say it to everybody. What if someone gives you a good question, you rave about it – “Gosh, forgot to cover that…” etc. Then the next person asks you a stupid question. You can’t rave about it – and you can’t say “Stupid question.” And if you don’t say anything, that stupid questioner will think, “Why didn’t he like my question?”
    It’s best just to take them all – don’t evaluate whether they are good, bad or neutral. Use each question to further your point. You can skillfully turn any question – good or bad – to make it part of your presentation.
    Also, people use “Good Question” as a cliche – sort of a non-word that is unnecessary. Just take them all.
    Thanks for asking Curt.
    Bert

  4. Hi Bert,
    Good stuff! Now that I think about it, how a speaker handles the Q&A seems just as important as how they handle the speech. Delivering great one-way presentations is a must, but effectively handling [mostly] unexpected questions might be what best reinforces one’s message and convinces your audience that you’re “the expert.”
    Could you please expand upon Don’t # 1 – “Good Question.” Why is that a no-no?

  5. Ah, Kim, you ask the most insightful questions!
    Posturing is acting as if the Q&A session is different than your presentation itself – so that with voice and body you “posture” a different pose. Some go casual, so get defensive or aggressive, or the like. The Q&A Session should be all of a piece with your presentation – it IS you still presenting your ideas and Point Of View – so you want it to have a similar look and feel.
    It ties into Item #5 also, not changing your presentation style. That’s why you have the Q&A Session at the end of your presentation but BEFORE your close, so you can end as you want to end – with your key point or action step or story or quote. End with a bang, not a whimper.
    Thanks for asking.
    Bert