Get to the Heart of the Matter with Q&A

One of the best ways to get a sense of someone’s speaking style is to ask them about previous presentations. You’ll understand the intended impact of the approach if they can tell you what they were trying to accomplish and how they reached their objective with an audience. You’ll also understand the result of the approach by asking them what questions the audience asked during and after the presentation.

While the presenter’s input tells you how focused the planning was, the audience’s questions tell you how effective the message was.

And, in fact, this is a great coaching tool for managers. If you don’t observe presentations given by your group, you should ask for feedback after presentations and follow the format above. Balance how the presenter felt with what the audience asked. The two concepts together provide an accurate read on the impact of the presentation.

As you can see from this scenario, Q&A is critical to the success of a presentation. It gives the presenter a sense of the audience’s reaction and takeaway from the presentation. And, it gives the presenter the opportunity to respond to concerns or misconceptions that a group expresses. In fact, we coach executives to “force” Q&A if a group isn’t forthcoming with questions. Often, internal politics may keep individuals quiet until the more senior person in the room has spoken.

You can “jump start” Q&A by asking your own questions.

-One question that I’m asked often is…
-Most groups want to know more about…

You can also engage the group by asking for feedback.

-Of the ideas you’ve heard today, what do you think will be most effective in your organization?
-Are you concerned that any of the ideas will be ineffective?
-What concepts in the presentation best align with your objectives?
-If we move forward with these recommendations, what would you like to see as the first priority?

While Q&A is a critical part of a presentation, it takes practice and planning to respond to questions effectively. And unfortunately, it’s the most overlooked part when preparing for presentations. A presenter can anticipate over 75% of the questions from most audiences, and yet few presenters take the time to identify the questions and plan great responses.

Preparing for Q&A involves two easy steps: anticipate the questions and prepare the responses.

Prior to any presentation, write down the ten questions you think the audience will ask. Consider the tough questions, not just the easy ones. Then, write out your responses to the questions using the format below.

To answer questions effectively, outline three parts to your response.

First, give a one sentence answer. Be direct in answering the question right up front. The first part of your answer will get the most attention from your audience.

Second, expand the concept, if possible. Provide 2-3 additional sentences to support the one sentence answer.

Third, provide an example. Share an example or illustration of your initial point to help the audience buy in to your response.

The three-part response gives the presenter an opportunity to broaden the question and include the entire audience in the expanded response and example. This prevents one member of the audience from monopolizing the Q&A.

Planning responses in advance gives the presenter a chance to think through ideas and key messages around the topic. So, even if the exact question isn’t asked, the presenter will have ideas and examples developed around the topic that would cover a broad range of questions.

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