What public speakers should learn about handling Q&A sessions

Mr. Victor Ochieng', Writer and Author.

In the Art and Science of Public Speaking, remember that many speaking situations involve two pertinent parts: the formal presentation and the Question-Answer (Q and A) session.

At the tail-end of the presentation, most speakers cordially invite questions from apt listeners.

Seasoned speakers know that this is a very important part of the presentation.

In a book titled Stand and Deliver: How to Become a Masterful Communicator and Public Speaker by the Dale Carnegie Training, the dream team posits that Q and A time is both a challenge and an opportunity.

During this special segment, the speaker can hammer the key points.

The speaker can also use the session to bring any resistance into the open.

Albeit, some people can ask digressive questions.

Whether they intend it or not, some listeners put traps with questions that can get the speaker into deep water.

The downside of this part is that some questions can be challenging to answer. The challenge is evident if the presenter is ill-prepared.

It is also not unusual for a single questioner to dominate the discussion, or at least to try to dominate it.

Every Q and A period should begin with you taking charge to set a time limit.

Sometimes, you may want to make this specific, especially if your talk has run a bit long.

You can specify it as five or ten minutes. But most often, it is best to leave it a bit vague.

Just say, ‘We have a few minutes for Q and A.”

Clearly communicating how much time will be allocated for Q and A helps you to keep the questions short and to the point.

This will also guide you to give answers that are spot on.

During Q and A session, your ability to interact one-on-one with the audience is going to be evaluated.

Since you cannot always predict what you will be asked, you should prepare adequately for this particular session, for it can make or break you.

The best place to start is by legging up your listening skills.

Whether you know it or not, listening is a special skill, just like speaking.

In the whole scheme of things, you cannot answer a question aptly if you have not heard it correctly.

As you receive the questions from the audience, never interrupt people interjecting questions.  This can seriously damage your cause. Just hold your horses.

Listen to the whole content of the question. That will help you give effective responses.

Eye contact is also important during the Q and A sessions. When somebody speaks up, give your full attention to the question.

Show respect for the person asking the question by maintaining appropriate eye contact.  You can also jot down the question when need be.

Please pause for thought when you are certain that the question has ended.

Do not be in a hurry to begin talking.

Do not be tempted to swing swiftly to give responses.

It is judicious to take your time. Be courteous as you respond.

When you start responding to the question, break eye contact with the one who has asked it.

Now address the audience as a whole.

Never forget that in such instances, you are still in a public speaking situation.  All the listeners should listen to your answer.

The response should not just focus on the one who asked the question per se. It is imperative that you address the audience.

Avoid the temptation of edging closer to or speaking directly to the person who raised the question, for this will make the rest of the audience feel left out.

Each time you answer a question, whether it is good or bad, always finish your answer by asking whether your response was sufficient.

This acknowledges and shows gratefulness to the one who asked the question. It lets the rest of the audience feel comfortable asking questions.

Don’t compel people to ask questions quickly.

Do not make them feel like you are harassing them or as if they are wasting your time.

By and large, what is the hurry for?

They have listened to you for an extended period. Now, it is also your time to listen to them.

Do not evaluate questions.

Avoid saying things like ‘That is a good question.”

For if the next person does not receive the same compliment, it may be interpreted as a condescending attitude towards the question or the person.

If you want to approve them, just say: ‘Thank you for the question.”

Over and above, make people feel equally approved and appreciated.

As you begin to respond, try to keep your answers straight to the point.

Do not be a windbag. Do not give another presentation.

The audience may feel bored or even feel resentful if you take too long to answer a particular question.

In addition, it is possible that the only person interested in the answer is the one who asked it in the first place.

So, be wise, not otherwise.

If you are using PowerPoint Presentation, avoid turning off the projector or the computer because you will just have to turn it on again and wait while it boots up.

Leaving a (be)dazzling white screen or blank black slide is definitely not a good idea.

At best, it is uninteresting, and at worst, it is a glaring distraction.

Some experienced speakers save the conclusion of their presentations until after the Q and A.

This enables them to control exactly when their time in front of the audience will end.

To make this happen, you might just say, “Before I make some concluding remarks, who has a question to ask?”

Then, after you have spent ample time in Q and A segment, wend towards your conclusion.

In this way, you can end on a positive, proactive note instead of trailing off with, “So, if there are no other questions, I guess that is it.”

At the end of your presentation, thank the audience for their rapt attention.

Capture the closing point in one sentence.

Simply shut off your microphone and step away from the podium.

The Writer rolls out Public Speaking Training Services. Contact: vochieng.90@gmail.com

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Mr. Ochieng' is an editor, orator and author. His contact: vochieng.90@gmail.com


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