Have you ever opened the floor to questions just to get a room full of blank stares? Have you ever had a question that you didn’t know how to answer? Maybe you’ve had a very “enthusiastic” audience members who just wants to tell the audience their own story.
Even when a Q&A session is well prepared (see my tips) there are a few pitfalls that you need to think about in advance.
Keep your Q&A session on track with my 3 tips for overcoming these common sticky situations:
- You can’t answer the question
You may get asked a question that you are unable to answer. Yikes! Not answering or being prepared to manage such a situation can result in the audience losing confidence in you. You can end up feeling like a fraud. Your carefully crafted message can lose all credibility.
If you don’t know the answer, don’t panic. Even if you’re the expert on the subject, you cannot be expected to know absolutely everything on that topic.
Instead of fumbling for an answer or making one up acknowledge the question, say that you haven’t thought of it that way before, or that you need to check to ensure you’re providing accurate information. Tell the person who asked the question that you will find the answer and provide it to them. Then deliver on your promise – provide the answer to the audience member and/or audience. This can be done directly to the person who asked the question (if you know who it is and have their contact details) or to the organisers to transmit further.
If it’s a particularly interesting question (and answer) then you could also choose to respond to the point publicly on a blog or website.
- No questions are asked.
Sometimes when you open a Q&A session you can be faced with a silent room – no questions. This can totally drain the energy in the room. The audience and you can end up feeling squeamish and uncomfortable.
Maybe the reason you have no questions is that you were so clear and thorough in your presentation. You have everyone on your side. You have completely convinced the audience to buy/engage/think differently. Your presentation was so powerful that there are no questions or remaining issues!
Maybe you have a shy audience. People can be reluctant to ask the first question. Or they may need a bit more time or prompting.
Don’t overthink why there are no questions, just be prepared for the eventuality. To avoid your Q&A falling flat you can prepare a couple of questions yourself.
After providing adequate time for questions to be raised from the audience, you can introduce a question with “People often ask me….” Or “One of the common questions that I come across is…”. Then you provide an example or additional information which adds to your presentation.
These prepared questions may then prompt some additional questions from the audience. If not, you’ve expertly managed the Q&A session anyway and can comfortably end with your strong closing.
- Someone hijacks the session with their own opinion.
You’ve seen this before – someone raises their hand or comes to the mic and instead of addressing a question to you they proceed to tell their own story or go on another tangent. They are not adding to the conversation and have not actually got a question.
Unfortunately, some people will take any opportunity to put their ideas across, but that’s not what the Q&A session is for.
You can take control of this situation by waiting until they take a breath (they have to at some point). Then you firmly asking them what their question is. If they continue to monopolise the session politely but firmly thank them for sharing and tell them that you need to move on to another member of the audience.
You may feel uncomfortable in cutting someone off but just remember that it’s your presentation and unless the point is really adding to the discussion, the person is wasting the audience’s time and may cause frustration and confusion.
Armed with the above tips you will be able to run a controlled and useful Q&A session. The audience will leave the session seeing you as the expert that you are.
Are there any other pitfalls that you’ve been faced with or seen? Please share them!
“He who is best prepared can best serve his moment of inspiration.”