Winning “Q and A” Sessions

(683 words)

A winning Question and Answer session stimulates audience participation and gives you an opportunity to reinforce your message.  It also gives you valuable information about your audience and allows you to clarify points they may have missed.

Your responsibility to the audience continues throughout the Q & A session.  Regard the Q & A with the same seriousness of purpose as the earlier part of the presentation.

  • Do not announce at the beginning that there will be a Q & A session.  Allow ten or fifteen minutes for the Q & A.
  • During the Q & A, the listeners will identify with the questioners in the audience, so treat all questions with sincerity and respect.
Questions to Accept and Questions to Be Cautious About:
  • Accept questions that relate to facts or content. These may be questions that are of a defining or clarifying nature.
  • Be cautious about opinion questions. These are questions whose answers are subjective and debatable.  You don’t want audience member to witness another audience member speculating or arguing with you.  Opinion questions can lead to battles between you and the questioner; you might embarrass them, become embarrassed yourself, or otherwise lose audience rapport.  Try to make each audience member “right”; say briefly that the answer to that question has been debated by experts, and quickly move on to the next questioner.
Q & A Guidelines:
  • As part of your rehearsal, anticipate possible questions (silly, difficult, long-winded, etc.).  Be prepared to answer questions you would never want to hear!
  • Listen carefully to each question, looking directly at the questioner and nodding your head a bit.  Allow the questioner to finish before answering.
  • Restate or paraphrase the question.  This clarifies the question in your mind, gives you time to think before you answer, and ensures that the whole audience hears and understands the question.  Check with the questioner to make sure of the information requested.
  • Share your answer with the whole audience. While answering, make eye contact with everyone, instead of directing your comments to the questioner.
  • Thank people for their questions, especially low-voiced questioners.
  • Limit your answers to about 30 seconds and no more than one minute in the case of more complex answers. Keep your answers concise and to the point, and encourage questions.
  • Refer to the central theme or main points of the presentation as you answer. Avoid one-word answers and yes/no answers.  Elaborate and restate your objectives.
  • If you don’t understand a question, be gentle. Don’t say, “I don’t understand you”.  Find a delicate way to get clarity on the question.
  • If you have trouble hearing the question, do not ask the questioner to speak more loudly. Move closer to the speaker if possible, or find another way to hear.
  • Maintain control: Never put a question “up for grabs” to the audience; never ask the listeners what they think about a question/answer.  You will risk losing your audience if you do.
  • When you don’t know the answer, say, “I don’t know”. Trying to bluff your way through or “winging” the answer can be dangerous for the speaker.  Say “I really don’t have that information with me, but I will be happy to get it for you later.”  Then move on to the next question.
  • Compliment the question occasionally. The key word is “occasionally”.  If someone raises a particularly good point or asks a good question, say so.  This tells your audience that the Q & A session is non-threatening and that you value their participation.  When they feel good about themselves, people will tend to accept your answers more. (Never ridicule a question!)
  • When you hear a question that you hate being asked: Smile at the audience and say, “I’m glad you asked that question.”  Be bright and confident as you answer.

After your Q & A, give the conclusion of your talk (only a few sentences) and say “Thank you very much.”

Follow these guidelines, and you will find that your Q & A sessions will deepen the experience for your audience and help enhance your credibility.

Copyright © 2013-2015 Maria Guida


Maria Guida  is an executive speaking coach/trainer, professional speaker, and Broadway actress.  With her experience on stage, TV and film (working with Paul Newman, James Earl Jones, and  Kevin Kline), she helps savvy executives in all industries enhance their credibility and generate business by speaking with poise, passion, and persuasive power.  Delighted clients include American Express, JPMorgan Chase, and Johnson & Johnson.  Maria travels extensively to deliver interactive and entertaining keynotes and workshops.  She can be reached at 718-884-2282 and maria@successfulspeakerinc.com; or visit www.successfulspeakerinc.com.


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