Inside Advice: Mastering Q&ABy Lou Solomon
Let’s start by establishing what Q&A (Questions & Answers) is and is not.
Q&A is not:
- the traditional tail-end of your talk.
- a meaningless question like, “Any questions? Okay. That’s all I have!”
- the opportunity you avoid because you’re afraid someone will ask you something you don’t know.
- The best opportunity to engage the audience.
- your final chance for buy-in.
- possibly the most crucial part of your presentation.
Whether you speak to a big audience or just a handful of teammates, the Q&A section has the potential to make or break your credibility.
Therefore, it’s just as important to prepare for Q&A as it is to practice the main body of your presentation.
Here’s our best inside advice for Q&A:
First, make sure the structure of your talk is sound. Start with your Big Idea of Point of View (POV) and the essential facts supporting your POV.
Every effective presentation has one big idea. For example:
Relocating corporate headquarters to an urban location near the light rail is the right strategic move for us.
Your main idea needs support in the way of 3-4 Key Messages:
- New space near public transportation will help draw top millennial talent.
- The urban location will rebrand the company as edgy and up-and-coming.
- The space will be more open but fewer square feet, allowing us to save on overhead.
- There will be financial incentives from local governments to move.
Examples and Stories
Your Key Messages need support from examples of other companies that have benefited from relocating. Include mentions of moves made by Boeing Company and Marriott International, for example.
Many questions are simple requests for more information. But consider who will be in the room and who will give you pushback.
Occasionally you will need to prepare for someone who wants to make themselves appear more intelligent or cause you to lose credibility.
Practice to Master Your Response
List every question you might receive, like our example:
Given the economy, how can you justify the insane expense of relocating the headquarters?
Ask a teammate to help you master your responses.
Wait a moment, take a breath, and consider the question. If you rush to answer, you may fumble. Silence can feel awkward, but your audience will appreciate your taking the time to be thoughtful about your response.
Restate the Question
If you aren’t listening, you risk answering the wrong question. Instead, pause to restate the question and check your understanding. Occasionally ask, “Does that answer your question?” It shows you are interested in bringing value to your audience.
If a question comes at you with emotion, pause to use a buffer statement that acknowledges the implied complaint. Buffer statements like these help ease the tension in the room:
- I appreciate that point of view.
- That’s a valid question.
- Thank you for sharing that.
- I understand your concern.
Get Back on Track, Bridge to Key Messages
The next step is to get back to your key messages using a bridge:
- Let me share the way I think about it…
- What’s important to remember…
- The most important thing I can stress…
Putting It All Together
Question: Given the economy, how can you justify the insane expense of relocating the headquarters? Isn’t it reckless?
- Buffer: I understand your concern.
- Bridge: What’s important to remember is…
- Key Message: We’re going to save on overhead, and there will be financial incentives from the local government.
When You Don’t Know
If you don’t know, you don’t know. Nothing zaps the credibility you’ve built with the audience like trying to tap dance around not knowing.
Here are a couple of bridging statements that will help you get back on track when you don’t know the answer to a question:
- I don’t know the exact number, but what I do know is that it has more than doubled.
- I haven’t read that particular article, but the reports have been clear about this trend.
Use a Big Close After Q&A
Since the audience pays attention to the final minutes of a talk, Q&A matters.
After the final question, come back to the big picture and send people away with a position picture of the relocation:
“Let me leave you with this. Now is the perfect time to relocate. In three to five years, we will have recast our image as a more desirable place to work, secured more top millennial talent, save on overhead costs, and be a welcomed member of the business community.”
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