“What Questions do you have for my answers?” – Henry Kissinger
When roles are reversed, and audience members are handed the microphone, many public speakers turn a brighter shade of purple. But this article will outline 5 practical steps for beating Question & Answer Sessions, and help you leave the stage as victor.
But first, the preliminaries: Questions and Answer sessions have become routine with many forms of public speaking and will often be expected by a host. It entails giving the audience members opportunity to reply to the material you’ve been presenting by having them ask questions. It does not necessarily entail simply asking for comment (that can be long, boring and often useless), but specifically setting apart a short time frame where you direct audience members to raise their hands if they have questions.
This can naturally be scary for even seasoned speakers, especially when speaking on a new topic. Its one thing to have the microphone in hand, with all the natural authority that it conveys, but it’s a different and more vulnerable thing to open yourself up to the audience. So here are seven tips for conquering Q&A:
1) Use the Bucket Method. This is the best way I know of to prepare for Q&A, and I stumbled upon it in Carmine Gallo’s book The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs. Used by smart CEO’s and diplomats alike, it basically entails placing anticipated questions into separate categories (or buckets) and then preparing set answers for each category.
For example: Let’s say you’re marketing a new toaster that your company has developed. You’ll likely have a “features” bucket since audience members are sure to want to know what makes your toaster so special. Perhaps you’ll have a “funding” bucket, or a “patent” bucket and certainly a “price” bucket.
The benefit of this method is that it streamlines your preparation. There’s no way you can prepare and memorize answers for hundreds of potential questions, so dividing questions into categories like these, simplifies the process.
2) Anticipate Questions. This one ties on to point one above. Certain questions are just naturally to be expected and for these, you can and should prepare laser-like answers that come straight from the textbook and convey the authority you have on your topic.
3) Get Experience. This is obvious, but there’s a side benefit: Most public speakers will tell you that nearly 90% of questions asked by an audience on one single topic, will be repeated by the next audience. If you’re giving your toaster speech in front of Audience A, then tomorrow when you do the same in front of Audience B, you’ll already have answered nine out of every ten questions possibly coming your way!
4) Never, ever take a question personally. I recently saw a video of Steve Jobs being personally insulted by an angry audience member who asked a demeaning question. Jobs’ reply was absolutely masterful. He never took the insult personally, refused to retaliate and instead, by focusing on the solution to the question, he never got angry (surely the response the audience member was hoping to elicit).
Some people are impossible to satisfy and you’ll occasionally stumble upon a smarter-than-thou who simply thinks you don’t know what you’re talking about. These people are true tests of your character and self-confidence and you can beat them by refusing to indulge them.
5) Don’t end with a Q&A session. Toastmasters recommend that a speaker never end a delivery with Q&A, and it makes sense. Since it certainly won’t be the most exciting part of your speech, it might be a good idea to interrupt yourself before your final (hopefully climatic point), give time for Q&A, and then proceed to end your speech strongly.
Leon Potgieter is an English Teacher, Christian Minister and Public Speaking Enthusiast who’s been living in the Republic of Korea since 2008. His website effective-public-speaking-tips.com is an ever growing online portal for public speaking tips, speechwriting help and presentation techniques, and compliments a lot of my content, so well worth checking out.
(and he is South African).