What Not To Do – When To take Questions From Your Audience
MAIN AIMS OF A Q&A
When making a presentation, most of us fail to understand that the most impactful part of this process is the question and answer session or the Q&A.
You want your audience to have listened to you, considered what you have said and then put this into their own words to be able to ask you a series of questions to clarify their newly learned knowledge. A facilitated Q&A is how you transfer the main messages of your presentation.
While your audience asking you questions is to be encouraged, if they ask so many questions that you don’t get a chance to deliver your full presentation then you have a real problem.
WHAT NOT TO DO IF YOU DON’T KNOW THE ANSWER
If you’re asked a question to which you do not know the answer.
Number one response is not wing it. If you do wing-it, you run the risk of being caught out. If this happens then you are damaging your personal credibility and perhaps that of your organisation as well.
Instead, in response, acknowledge that you do not have an answer to the question at this time. Promise the questioner that you’ll complete research on this question and come back to them by a set time on a set date, usually the following day.
LEARNING FROM MY FAILURES
Never be afraid to assert yourself and take control of your audience, as the consequences of not taking control can lead to disarray and can be deeply embarrassing.
Let me tell you about two times I failed in a big way, by not taking assertive control of my audience from the outset.
I was working for the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) as the Executive in charge of establishing and managing the Business and Education Links Programme (BELP). This job entailed my traveling to hundreds of schools across Ireland to organise a programme of soft-skills activities between IBEC member companies and second level schools.
In every school I visited, I had to deliver a presentation in the school staff room. In my early days in this role, I was anxious to please all of my audiences and I was not as assertive as I should have been and made a number of embarrassing errors.
I recall on one particular occasion when I was delivering my usual lunch period presentation in the staff room that I allowed myself to be continuously asked questions.
Through my own lack of experience, I felt compelled to answer every question that I was asked. When I did finish speaking, it was immediately obvious to everyone in the room that despite having used up my entire allocation of time, that I had not fully delivered my presentation and My audience was now confused.
At this stage, the teachers were standing up and leaving the staff room to return to their classes. I had failed because there was no formal conclusion to my presentation, there was no call to action and there was no Q&A session.
On a personal and professional level, I was deeply embarrassed, and this was compounded by the fact that my behavior also reflected poorly on my organisation.
It was only through the painful failure of that day that I learned what I should have done; which was to assertively state in my opening remarks that I would prefer if everyone held onto their questions until the conclusion of my presentation.
Informing the audience of my questioning rule at the outset would allow me to deliver my presentation within the allotted time frame and then facilitate an effective Q&A session.
Later that year while doing the same job, I experienced a second painful learning experience. On this occasion I was delivering a presentation in the school staff room to the entire teaching staff, the senior management and school Principal. Also, there were the CEO of the company I had linked this school with and his entire senior management team.
Having learned from my previous mistakes I was now assertively stating at the outset of my presentation that I would ask the audience to hold off on asking me any questions until the conclusion of my presentation.
Unfortunately for me, the CEO of the company did not believe that my request for questions to be held back applied to him and he proceeded to ask me a long-winded technical question. Because of his seniority I felt I then had to answer him. When I then attempted to return to my presentation the school Principal now felt that he had to also make an impression and proceeded to ask an even more longwinded technical question of me which I also then felt I had to respond to.
When I did eventually return to my presentation, I now found myself 12 minutes behind within a 20-minute presentation time-slot. Yet again, I now found myself having run out of time without having finished my presentation delivered on the main points and allowed the audience to ask me questions. For the second time that year I found myself yet again deeply embarrassed and professionally compromised.
Again, it was only through the painful failure of that day that I learned what I should have done In that situation. What I should have done, was answered the first question in full then while not looking at the person who asked me the question. Then while looking at everyone else in the room and smiling, I should have assertively reminded the audience that I will take all questions at the conclusion of the presentation and then immediately continued with my delivery.
It is only by assertively taking control off your audience, can you deliver your presentation, drive home your main aims and facilitate an effective Q&A within your allotted time frame.
I hope you will learn from my failures.
How do you use assertive body language to signal to a person to stop speaking and that you will hold their question and revisit it at the conclusion of your presentation?
The assertive method of controlling a questioner, is as follows: as soon as they begin to ask you their question give them a warm smile, then hold up hold up your hand.
This assertive hand gesture will cause the other person to stop speaking immediately. Continue to smile warmly and then recommence your presentation without stop engaging them in any further conversation. If you feel you need to add to this gesture, you can remind the questioner that you will take questions at the conclusion of your presentation.
At the conclusion of your presentation, make sure that this person is the very first person who you turn to for their question and thank them for their patience during your presentation.