Public Speaking Success: Tips for Handling Question and Answer Sessions

In a prior article, we covered how to prepare for a Q&A session so in this one, we’ll cover how to handle the actual Q&A session during your speech.

Before you start your talk, decide whether you’ll take questions throughout your talk or only during a designated question and answer session. It’s better to designate a time for questions versus taking questions throughout your talk as the latter can throw you off topic and quickly consume the time that you should be using to give your speech. When I teach a course or when I give a speech to a small audience, I’ll stop for questions several times throughout my talk. I do this because I’m trying to provide a more personalized experience for the audience and in the case of classes, I’m trying to ensure that everyone understands the material.

This doesn’t work well during a keynote speech because I’m usually given a time limit, some of which I designate for Q&A, and it’s important for me to get all the points of my speech in. Whatever the case, I always state the procedure for questions during my introduction. When I have a designated Q&A session, I usually make it the last part of my speech prior to my conclusion. I do this so that the speech ends in the manner I intend it to versus ending with an answer to someone’s question which may or may not be beneficial to the audience.

So you’re giving your speech and now it’s time to take questions. Here are some useful tips for making the most of a Q&A session.

Always repeat the question:

When someone asks you a question, repeat the question back. Doing so is important for three reasons:

  1. You ensure that you have correctly understood the question.
  2. You ensure that everyone in the audience hears the question.
  3. You give yourself a few extra seconds to formulate your answer.

It’s not uncommon to mishear or misinterpret a question so verifying the question will clear it up. Also, you may not understand the question, so it’s okay to ask the questioner for clarification. Once you’ve got the right question, it’s okay to ask the audience if everyone heard or understood the question.

Don’t be afraid to say that you don’t know the answer:

A big mistake that many speakers make is that they try to answer questions that they don’t know the answer to. They feel that because they’re supposed to be the expert, that they should know the answer to everything. It’s okay to not have all the answers and telling the audience so will help you bond with them – they’ll appreciate your honesty. Just make sure that you don’t use this approach with every question.

It’s perfectly acceptable to tell an audience member that you don’t have all the facts and would like to get back to them with an accurate answer. It’s also okay to tell someone that you don’t recall all the details. If you try to fake your way through an answer (or even worse, make something up), you’ll lose credibility with your audience.

Dealing with difficult questions:

It’s not unusual to get someone that asks a question for a less than honorable reason. These reasons could be:

  • The person is trying show off his or her knowledge.
  • The person disagrees with you and is trying to prove you wrong.
  • The person is bitter and angry and chose to take it out on you.
  • The person is interested in only his or her needs and doesn’t care that there are other people also trying to learn.

In each of these cases, your goal is to get the other person to take the conversation off-line. In other words, you need to politely say something like “those are some great questions, is it okay if you and I talk afterwards to discuss them further?” Don’t be rude or unprofessional (even if the other person is), but be firm. Here are some different ways you can approach it:

  • “You’ve asked a lot of great questions. Would you mind if you and I chat when I’m done so others in the audience can ask some questions?”
  • “I’d like to think about that a bit more before I answer it. Could you and I talk afterwards?”
  • “I appreciate your position on the issue. Perhaps you and I could discuss it in more detail later on.”
  • “You seem like you know a lot about this subject. Perhaps you and I can compare notes after my talk is over.”

Your goal is to get the person to stop asking questions without doing anything that might upset or offend others in the audience.

There are a lot of things to keep in mind when handing a Q&A session during a speech. Remember that preparing well will give you confidence. Repeat the question back so that you ensure you get it right and the audience hears it. Don’t be afraid to tell someone that you need to get back to them with an answer and make sure that you treat all questioners with respect, even if they don’t reciprocate. A good Q&A session can help you build rapport with an audience, so don’t overlook this important part of a speech.

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6 thoughts on “Public Speaking Success: Tips for Handling Question and Answer Sessions

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  5. Seymour Segnit

    Another technique one may find useful if you don’t know the answer to a question is to engage to knowledge of the audience. This is a simple method which also helps bring unity to the room. By asking, “Does anyone here know the answer to that?” you are engaging the audience, in addition to having your question answered. Be sure to thank both parties once the question has been satisfied.

    Cheers!
    Seymour

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