If the title of this article reminds you of the 1980’s anti-drug egg and frying pan commercial, you’re not alone. For those of you who missed it, you can check it out here. Although the commercial did a poor job of connecting with its intended target, the imagery and those last two words, “Any questions” have been stuck in my head for over 30 years. That, and the commercials failure to achieve its intended purpose brings us to the way you approach question and answer (Q & A) in your presentations.
I’m always floored by how little advance thought presenters put into Q & A when one could easily argue that it is the most important part of the presentation. When your audience asks a question, they are essentially telling you what they care about; think of it as telling by asking. A question is also a clue that there is some degree of uncertainty surrounding your topic. As the expert, it’s your responsibility to sniff it out and clear it up. Unfortunately, experience has shown me that most people handle Q & A like a hot potato, trying to get through it as quickly and with as little contact as necessary. If you’ve ever opened the floor for questions and said to yourself, “Dear God, please don’t let them ask me about X,” you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Many speakers underperform because their attention is focused on reaching the oasis of completion that awaits them just on the other side of their close. If you were to ask, they would probably tell you that no time is a good time to ask questions. They just want to get their presentation over with.
When it comes to the timing of your Q & A, consider two factors: the complexity of your subject and the size of your audience. If you expect your audience to have a hard time digesting your topic, you should open the floor for questions sooner and more frequently. I call this the pepper approach because the questions are peppered throughout the presentation. The second factor to consider is the size of your audience. The larger your audience, the more you should lean toward letting the questions marinate throughout the presentation, strategically immersing in them at the end of each distinct section and just before the closing of your talk.
To make things a bit easier and to improve the flow of my presentation, I usually tell my audiences that I have considered their potential questions in advance and most of the answers are included in the presentation.
Here are three quick tips to help up your Q & A game:
Get someone to interview you and ask the questions you anticipate your audience will ask. You can measure the quality of your answers by how well your “mock interviewer” understands them.
When you answer someone’s question, be quick to ask them, “Does this answer your question?” This way, you don’t waterboard them with your answer.
If you don’t know, say so! It is impossible to know everything about a given topic. When you don’t know, admit and commit. Admit that you don’t know and commit to getting them an answer.
Not surprisingly, people are reluctant to ask the first question when Q & A starts, so you should have a trick up your sleeve. Say something like “The first question people typically ask me is X.” After answering question X, say, “OK, that was a great first question. Who has the second question?” Watch those hands go up!