Thursday, July 23, 2009

The ABC's of Public Speaking - Q is for Q&A

Q is for Q&A

Traditionally at the end of a presentation a speaker will leave time for questions from the audience. Many people who only speak on occasion never give any thought to this important part of their presentation. They assume that there will be many hands up from curious people who want to hear more of their wisdom. They are sure there will be more questions than there will be time after they wrap up the talk.

The problem here is that the Q&A portion of your speech is the final thing that the audience will experience, and thus it is one of the most memorable parts of your whole presentation. Without planning, you are leaving your legacy of the talk to chance.

One mistake that you can make is to run long and talk through the allotted time and need to skip the Q&A part altogether. People plan to be able to get back to the office or another appointment, and thus ending on time is important. Talking up to the end of the meeting leaves many in the audience feeling cheated (I did this yesterday, and while the presentation was well received, I felt bad for running long and not having time for Q&A). Plan your speech so that you have enough time for audience questions.

The bigger issue is when you end your remarks with ten or fifteen minutes remaining and you ask the audience for questions and you receive a room full of blank stares. Nobody raises their hand and there is an uncomfortable pause until the person in charge leaps up and closes the meeting or awkwardly tosses out a weak question to try to throw you a lifeline.

The best thing to do is to plan ahead for questions. Ask a friend in advance if they would ask a question about a specific topic you would like to expend upon. It is best to be up front with them that it often takes someone to get the Q&A session moving along, and that if there is not any hands up right away, you would appreciate them jumping in. Once one or two people ask intelligent questions it lifts the veil of fear from over the rest of the audience. Some people are shy and being the first person to ask a question is difficult for them. Being the second or third one to raise their hand is much easier.

Additionally you should have a list of questions that other audiences have asked you about your topic. If nobody raises an inquiry when you request audience questions, you can jump right in with "the most common question I get on this topic is....." and then go into your answer. This, too, can help loosen up the audience and get you more hands up from the crowd.

Always have a Q&A closing remark. Occasionally an audience member could ask you a tough question, or one where the answer has a negative tone. You do not want to end your remarks on a dark note, so you should have an upbeat close or a positive challenge to the audience that you deliver after your answer to the final question. This will leave them in the right state of mind and more excited about your presentation.

Have A Great Day

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