Question and Answer sessions

Impromptu speaking is the worst fear of many people, and the prospect of a Q & A session can be even more frightening. Several Toastmasters Advanced Speaking Manuals require a short question and answer session of about 5 minutes after the speech or presentation for the audience to ask questions.

So, your presentation is over. It went well with no hitches or glitches, and now you open the floor to a Question & Answer session. Many presenters dread this period, feeling vulnerable and nervous.

  • "Will I know the answer?"
  • "Can I get my words together?"
  • "What if I lose control?"

Be prepared

If you are prepared this period can be controlled. Remember:

  • You are still being judged;
  • Staying calm;
  • Keeping your mind focussed;
  • There will be a variety of questions;
  • There will be surprises;
  • All questions are serious enough for an answer

Make or break time

While the Q & A session may seem like an afterthought, it can make or break your presentation. It is during this period that the speaker reveals their:

  • Leadership skills;
  • Personality;
  • Knowledge of the subject;
  • Credibility.

Understand that questions are a compliment to you and your presentation and mean you have probably opened a mind or hit a nerve.

Successful strategies help

For a successful Q & A session consider the following strategies:

  • Listen carefully to the question, repeating it to confirm you have heard it correctly and understood it - this also gives you time to think of a reply;
  • Engage the full audience with your response, not just the questioner, and speak loudly enough for everyone to hear;
  • Keep your answer succinct, or if a longer answer is required suggest meeting the questioner after the meeting;
  • Keep the session moving and try to answer a question from a different person each time, to avoid any one person monopolising the period and to let the audience know what others are thinking.
  • If an aggressive, abusive or hostile question is asked, remain calm and answer carefully. It is acceptable to disagree. If necessary explain a little further or offer to discuss the topic in greater depth after the meeting is over.
  • Should someone raise a valid argument against what you have said, acknowledge they have made a good point and admit you hadn't thought of that before;
  • Correct words or statements that have been twisted or simply untrue and then deal with the question as you then see it.
  • Break up a workshop, seminar or long presentation with a short Q & A period at the end of each section;
  • If you anticipate long and involved questions, because the audience is large or your subject is controversial, it may be appropriate to ask for written questions to be handed in during a break. This will enable you to screen the questions and formulate replies.

No questions?

If no questions are asked, jump start the session yourself by:

  • Asking the audience questions of your own. Go to the meeting prepared, just in case. This is an opportunity to inject a little humour;
  • Planting a colleague in the audience. Choose people who are trustworthy and will ask the question as briefed;
  • Bringing up questions from other presentations. It may be that you have extra time to fill, so again, be prepared.

Know it all?

Remember you don't know everything and not expected to. Your credibility will stay intact if you acknowledge this:

  • If you don't know the answer, say so. It always pays to be honest and not try to wing it or simply ignore it. Try not to be defensive or embarrassed, or make rash promises;
  • Refer the questioner to an expert source, for example a website or suggest they contact your office later;
  • Ask if anyone in the audience has had experience in this area and is able to assist;
  • Offer to find out the answer - this will demonstrate your willingness to assume responsibility.

Question time can be fun, interesting and entertaining as well as being informative. Although these sessions are deemed impromptu with thought and preparation they will hone your leadership skills.

As a final point, remember, people who give the best answers are those who know when to stop.

Its Still Your Session

Always remember your objective is to manage the Q & A session. Sometimes, the session is only just getting lively when the time is up; other times there may be no questions at all. Either way:

  • Use the orange light or card to start winding up the session. This lets you emphasise "we have to make this the last question", rather than having to cut questioners off
  • After answering that last question, take back the session for 30 seconds or so with a very brief summary of the main point
  • Make it clear that you're happy to answer questions after the meeting if you are asked a lot of questions - and stick to that during the Q & A
  • Never be afraid to "park" a question for later