How you handle a question & answer session can often be the crucial factor as to how your presentation is viewed upon. If you’re pitching for business, then you better handle the questions properly.
1. Be prepared for questions
– When you rehearse your sales pitch, anticipate what you’re likely to be asked and what your answer is going to be. If you have done the same presentation more than once, this should not be a problem anymore. Your previous experience in handling similar questions will give you the necessary confidence. You might not want to answer a particular question there and then, so think about what you’ll say to satisfy the audience. Perhaps giving them your email address & asking them to write to you might help. This is especially necessary for long winded questioners & equally long winded answers.
2. Set the rules at the start
– You may want to take questions as you speak or at the end of your talk. Whatever your decision, mention it at the start and stick to the game plan. I would suggest questions at the end of a particular subject & before moving on to the next subject. This will help the audience to fully understand the first subject before moving on to the next subject. If you take questions as you go, then your timing will be affected. You may also lose your train of thought & deviate from the original matter. Remember, your audience won’t forgive you for taking half an hour when you were only supposed to speak for fifteen minutes.
3. Don’t keep the Q&A session to the end
– It is better to ask for questions five or ten minutes before the end, handle the questions and then sum up your speech for an elegant finish. This will ensure that you conclude your speech on your terms & not on the terms of the audience. Quite often, presentations finish on questions and the whole thing goes a bit flat – especially if you don’t get any questions from the audience. Worse still, what if you were facilitating a controversial subject in which the audience were hostile towards you? If you terminate your speech immediately after the Q&A session, you are going to increase their hostility towards you. Therefore, I would suggest that you summarize your speech elegantly after the Q&A session before you leave the stage.
– When asked a question, listen with your eyes & ears. Many people “listen to answer” instead of listening to understand. When you practice listening with both your eyes & ears, you will eventually learn to listen with your heart. When you listen with your heart, you will be able to answer from your heart. This ability will open a whole new dimension in communication skills for you. Your audience will simply love you because you now “seek first to understand” before attempting to be understood. The question may be something you’ve heard a many times before. Treat the questioner with respect and don’t trivialize their point.
5. Thank the questioner
– It’s only polite, it shows that you respect them and it buys you a bit more time to craft your answer. Thanking the questioner will also encourage others to ask questions. Hopefully, this is what you want… 🙂
6. Repeat the gist of the question
– The rest of the audience may not have heard the question so your answer may not make any sense to them. The people who did not hear the question could get mentally “disconnected” from you in the process. Again, repeating the essence of the question gives you more time to think of a good answer and it makes you look knowledgeable.
7. Answer to entire room
– Don’t get caught into having a one-to-one dialogue with the questioner. Remember, while the question may “belong” to the questioner, the answer belongs to everyone in the room. This is because the answer may be relevant to more than one person in the room. If they happen to be near the front then step back, look at the entire audience before answering.
– Keep It (your answers) Short & Simple. Some speakers, have the tendency to give long winded answers. This could be an indication that they are afraid to take on the next question. Therefore, they buy time by rambling. If you had prepared your presentation well, you should not be worried about handling questions. After all, if you don’t understand or don’t want to answer a particular question, you can always ask the audience to email the question to you 🙂 So don’t worry, be jolly 🙂
9. Don’t fake an answer
– If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so and promise to find out. Ask the questioner to leave his email address with your staff so that you can reply to him at a later stage with a proper answer. Your audience will respect you for your humility. It can even be a good way to make further contact after the presentation. Remember, there will always things you simply don’t know, and it’s pointless to try to talk your way out of a question. Frankly speaking, I’ve never had all the answers to all MY questions all my life. Therefore, if I can’t answer many of my own questions, I don’t suppose that I can answer every question from the audience.
It’s also possible that you may not be asked any questions and you then have that deafening silence. People may be digesting what you’ve just said and may require more time to ask. They may also be a bit shy and may take a few minutes to come out of their cocoon. Under such circumstances it is best to have a set of “frequently asked questions” to get the ball rolling. If you still fail to get any questions after you have exhausted all your FAQ’s then go straight into your summary and closing statement.
Handling a question and answer session well, demonstrates your professionalism and will reflect well on you. I wish you well in your next Q&A session. Remember, nothing beats adequate preparation so prepare well in order to heighten your level of confidence.
Be brave, just do. Be brave, be you!
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