In my Professional Communication and Presentation class, students finish their speeches and then ask the audience if they have any questions. I find that it helps students to experience a question and answer session post-speech for many reasons. First, it helps new speakers continue to gain confidence in front of an audience; students often feel relieved that the “speech” is over and relax during the Q&A. Second, I love a good bit of impromptu speaking after the well-organized, planned presentation. Students are able to shake off a bit of that stiffness and formality and show a bit more of their true, authentic selves. Delivery usually improves quite a bit during the Q&A because the presenter actually does have a conversation with his or her audience.
Time and time again, though, I do see presenters make the same mistakes during that post-speech question and answer session. Here are three tips to help ensure the Q&A is as strong, powerful, and motivating as the presentation itself:
1. Don’t get too loose. You’re still technically “presenting” during that Q&A. It’s not time to take off your belt and tie, unbutton your pants, and kick off your shoes. It’s also not the time to let the curse words spew out. You should still remain professional and focused on the task at hand: helping the audience understand your point(s) a bit better. The Q&A may not be as formal as the speech itself, but it is still a time for professionalism.
2. Be thankful for audience questions. If your audience is asking questions, it means you’ve moved them in some way. That’s a great thing! You’ve made people feel feelings. Don’t get defensive if someone protests your ideas. If an audience member challenges your ideas, it means he or she is thinking about those ideas. Explain your points confidently and graciously. It’s an honor to continue speaking! If the audience didn’t care, they wouldn’t raise their hands.
3. Don’t dance around the question. If you don’t know the answer to someone’s question, admit it! Saying “I don’t know” to someone’s question is perfectly acceptable; in fact, it helps you avoid the dreaded dance around the question method. Audiences appreciate honesty, and they also appreciate the fact that you’re a human being. Of course, the best approach is to follow your “I don’t know” up with a “I will definitely find out and let you know.” Your credibility will remain intact as long as you DO indeed follow up with an answer. Get the audience member’s email address to touch base later that day or week.
What tips would you give to presenters for the question and answer portion of their presentation?