What Not to Do During Your Next Question-and-Answer Session

Most presentations follow a pretty predictable format. There’s the introduction, in which the speaker connects with the audience and primes their expectations. Then there’s the presentation deck full of key points, relevant data and visual aids. And last comes the question-and-answer session in which the speaker opens up the floor to the audience, accepting inquiries and comments that further the discussion.

This is a great set-up in theory, but presentations tend to be a lot less predictable in actuality—especially whenever audiences have the power to dictate outcomes, like during the Q&A.

So, how can you make sure your next Q&A does your entire presentation justice and engages your audience in all the right ways? Start by knowing what not to do.

Don’t Start with “Any Questions?”

Few things are more gut-wrenching for a presenter than asking “any questions?” Then waiting… and waiting. This underscores the importance of paying attention to how you’re soliciting questions and comments from your audience, as how you do so will affect the nature of their responses.

One leadership expert and CEO recommends presenters kick off their Q&A by asking something like “What questions do you have?” rather than “Are there questions?” The former is open and inviting; the latter may signal to your audience that you don’t particularly welcome questions. This expert also advises speakers to avoid saying they have time for a certain number of questions, as it quantifies interactions rather than basing them on quality. Some questions will simply take longer to answer because they’re richer, so it’s difficult to match the amount of time left with a specific number of queries.

Avoid Simply Passing the Mic

The Q&As of yesterday depended on passing the microphone around the room, allowing individuals to stand up and share their questions or comments. But this activity is logistically clunky. There tends to be pauses between speakers as moderators transport the mics, or as people approach the fixed microphone to ask their questions. There’s the potential for technical malfunctions, including ear-piercing feedback. It also leaves a lot up to chance in terms of audience member communication style, articulation, phrasing, length of comment, and the like.

This is why many companies and presenters have modernized their approach to question-and-answer sessions, using a plug-in like Poll Everywhere to facilitate live polling for large groups. Audience members can use their mobile devices to ask questions and upvote their favorites asked by others, ensuring the cream of the crop always rises to the top. People can also submit questions anonymously, which encourages shy participants to contribute just as much as outspoken audience members.

Aim to End with a Bang Rather Than a Fizzle

You want your audience to know clearly when your presentation is over rather than having to look around for cues as to whether it’s time to leave or not. If there’s any ambiguity here, that means your Q&A hasn’t achieved its maximum impact and people have been left hanging.

Instead of hoping your Q&A session ends on a strong note—but leaving it up to chance—share one final story, idea, example or summation after the final question has been addressed. This allows speakers to end on their own terms rather than having to hope that the last question provides a solid ending point or, worse, having to cut off the Q&A at an awkward point due to time constraints.

As one professional public speaker writes for Harvard Business Review, “That way, even if the Q&A falls flat, you can still end your session with a bang instead of a fizzle.”

By avoiding these common question-and-answer session missteps, you’ll be able to engage your audience to the maximum, opening up the lines of communication and bolstering the quality of your overall performance.

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