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My favorite part of any presentation is usually Q&A, the question and answer portion of the program. As either an audience member or as a speaker, I like Q&A because I get to hear different voices and perspectives. Done well, the Q&A period is an interactive and lively part of the program. To keep your Q&A session energetic and enlightening, keep two planning tips in mind. One, if you are planning a Q&A, let your audience know this near the very beginning of your presentation.
For many small boardroom or classroom- style presentations, you might tell your audience to just jump in and ask questions at any time. For more formal presentations your audience is often better served when you tell them you'll answer their questions near the end. By announcing that you'll have Q&A near the end, you almost ensure that the audience will think of great questions to ask you. Secondly, hold your Q&A session near the end, not at the end. You don't want to close your presentation with Q&A; instead, tell your audience that you have one final thought to leave them with, but before you do, you'll open up the floor for questions.
This near-the-end-not-at-the- end approach does two things. Number one, in the unlikely event that no one has any questions, you can smoothly go to your closing statement. Number two, this approach lets you take control of the final words. Don't leave those final words up to the whim of the last questioner. The last words the audience needs to hear is your voice and your message. As audience members start asking you questions, you'll want to keep three in-the- moment tips in mind as you answer.
First, depending on the room and the size of the audience, you'll often want to repeat or reframe the question out loud. If you are speaking to a larger audience and the person asking the question isn't using a microphone, repeating the question lets the rest of the audience hear. Also, if the question is awkwardly framed, instead of merely repeating the question, you can put it into words that the audience might understand a little better. Secondly, keep your answers very brief. The best Q&A sessions are lively and interactive. You'll want to engage as many people as you can.
Answer a question in a minute or less. If you don't think you can answer briefly, say so. A bit of humor can help you. You can acknowledge that it's a complicated question and a comprehensive answer might take an hour. Instead, tell your audience you'll give them the short answer and that in the interest of time, you'll take another question. Thirdly, keep in mind that every so often you'll get an audience that asks you a long incoherent, rambling, or completely off-topic question.
Inside my head, I call these people Q&A hogs. Know this: the rest of the audience wants the Q&A hog to stop talking just as much as you do. If a person can't ask a question in under thirty seconds, you need to politely but firmly shut them down. Tell them that you are going to interrupt them. Don't ask if you can interrupt them. Tell them. Remind them that time is limited and that out of respect for the audience, you are going to need to move on to another question or close the presentation.
Now this may sound harsh or rude, but your audience will love you for doing it. And if you truly feel that this approach is too harsh, you can try softening it by adding that you will be available to take their question after the presentation; however, only do this if you actually have the time and inclination to meet with the person afterward. Q&A is often a vital part of your presentation. If you are planning one, tell your audience right away when and how you'd like to take questions. That way they'll be in a frame of mind to ask great questions.
And remember, never leave Q&A until the very end; rather, make sure it's near the end so that you can take control of your closing words.
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