10 Keys to a Terrific Q & A Session

Speaking recently to 4,000 people at the University of Phoenix Graduation Ceremony in Raleigh, NC.

Speaking recently to 4,000 people at the University of Phoenix Graduation Ceremony in Raleigh, NC.

Key 1: Set expectations as to how many questions you will take or how long you will entertain questions. For example, I usually say, “We’ll take 4 or 5 questions and then I’ll wrap up the message.” Or I might say, “We have 5 minutes for questions and then we’ll put a bow on the message for today.”

Along with setting expectations, you should also let your audience know that this is not the end. This is why I add “and then we’ll wrap up the message.” Otherwise, because audiences are used to most speakers ending with the Q & A, they might think you are at the end, which could prompt them to start packing up their papers and shuffling around in anticipation of leaving. You can solve this by setting the right expectations at the beginning of the Q & A.

Key 2: Do not ask, “Do you have any questions?” or “Are there any questions?” People might not respond. Instead, ask, “What questions do you have?” This is no longer about whether or not they have a question; it is about what questions they have and how many. Questions will flow out if you prompt in an open-ended way rather than using the yes or no question.

Key 3: Rephrase the questions. This accomplishes the following three things:

  1.  It affirms the person who asked the question and makes him or her feel understood.
  2. It helps the other audience members understand what was asked because many times the questioner does not have a microphone.
  3. It gives you time to formulate your response.

Key 4: Frame your responses. For example, if it is going to be a 3-part response, let them know. You might say, “There are 3 critical strategies you can use. First, second…and finally…” This way, even if you do speak a little longer than you want, it will not feel like you are rambling. It will still be a structured response.

Key 5: Make sure your answers are brief. Anticipate what they will ask and prepare for those answers in advance. The longer you take to answer, the quicker they will stop believing you.

Key 6: Try to call on questioners from all 4 major sections of your audience. Call on someone in the front, the back, to the left, and to the right. Make them all feel involved.

Key 7: Occasionally acknowledge the importance or validity of the question. I know some speakers say, “Don’t tell people they asked a good question because then everyone else you didn’t say that to will get offended.” If somebody gets offended because you praised someone else, that’s his or her personal problem not yours. Occasionally saying, “Great question” does much more good than harm. However, only say it if you mean it and don’t say it every time. Saying “Great question” to everyone is like saying “Great question” to no one.

Key 8: Occasionally ask, “Does that make sense?” Do not overdo it, but do use it especially if you are not sure you addressed the person’s question adequately or you read uncertainty on the person’s face (or hear it in the person’s voice). It does not hurt to check. Again, don’t turn “Does that make sense?” into a filler sentence. Only ask it when you’re truly uncertain whether or not your answer is clear.

Key 9: Try to tie your answers back into the main points of your speech. For example, I might answer a question and then add, “…and that’s another way you can make sure you don’t sell the product but you sell the results.” The Q & A period can certainly help you reinforce your messages.

Key 10: Don’t close your speech with the Q & A. Have a Q & A but don’t make it the last piece your audience hears. Why? Because people remember best what they hear first and what they hear last. If you do your Q &A about 90% of the way through, that gives you time to end with a powerful story that leaves your audience on a high.

Final Thoughts

If you incorporate these 10 keys into your question and answer period, you will keep deepening your connection with each response without destroying the flow of your speech and it will set you up for a very strong ending.

Craig Valentine

As a motivational speaker I've been fortunate to have spoken in over 20 countries, and back in 1999 Toastmasters International awarded me the World Champion of Public Speaking.

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