Thinking on Your Feet

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Conducting a successful Q&A session can make or break your presentation. The Q&A is an opportunity to find out what the audience members are thinking, share expertise and build rapport.

Done professionally the Q&A can leave a lasting impression on your subordinates, peers and leaders.

Maintaining your composure is key to keeping the audience with you.

When questions begin, watch the body language, facial expressions, voice projection and inflection of the person asking the question. These factors are indicators of question intent-curiosity, anger, wanting to know more depth, challenging the speaker, etc.

If you get cold feet before your Q&A sessions, take the time to rehearse beforehand. Write down possible questions on 3 x 5 cards. Shuffle the cards and have a friend or partner ask them to you. Answer the questions out loud. It is very important to listen to your self-speaking.

In his book, The Exceptional Presenter, Timothy Koegel gives some critical tips for being your best during the Q&A session.

  • Understand the question being asked. Repeat or rephrase the question to ensure you know what the audience member is asking.
    • “Let me make sure I understand your question.”
    • “If I understand your question, you’re asking me…”
    • “The question, for those who did not hear it was…”
    • “It sounds like you’re concerned with…”
  • If you still aren’t sure what is being asked, seek clarification.
    • Request that the person give you an example to illustrate the question.
    • Turn to the members of the group to see if they could help you understand.
  • Involve everyone. Do not answer the question with your eye contact solely fixed on the person who asked the question. You will lose the rest of the audience. Answer by continuing to look all around the room.
  • At the end of an answer, ask the questioner, “Does that answer your question?” However, you may not want to ask this if you want to move on and this person has been holding up the session.
  • Neutralize a negative question. Question – “Why are your fees so ridiculously high?” Response: “Your question has to do with how we structure our fees…”
  • Don’t fidget, dance, shuffle or get defensive. Keep your cool.
  • Maintain a strong body language. Move forward and maintain eye contact, even on the toughest, most aggressive questions. Don’t retreat.
  • Use names to personalize your answers and elevate audience members. “Susan’s question has to do with…” “Bob asked a question about…”
  • Keep it simple. Answer the question and move on. Don’t dwell, don’t ramble, and don’t try to tell them everything you know.
  • Respect your audience. Even when you’re sure you’re right. Earn respect by respecting others and by handling an unprofessional attack with poise and professionalism.