7 tips for a winning Q&A

To engage your audience, answer their queries and get real-time input on your presentation, offer a question-and-answer session near—not after—the end of your talk. Here’s what to do.

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For connecting your leaders to your dispersed workforce, a Q&A can be a powerful tool, even in times of crisis.

Adding a Q&A to your talk can be a great way to get instant feedback, engage your audience in conversation and ensure you’ve covered everything.

Managed poorly, though, a Q&A can be sloppy, get out of hand and torpedo an otherwise great presentation.

So, here are seven tips to ensure your next Q&A goes smoothly:

1. Do not hold Q&A after you’ve finished your talk. The Q&A portion of your talk should come just before your conclusion. This allows your presentation to end on a high note rather than fizzle out with, “I guess there are no more questions.” Finish answering your last question, and then launch into a short conclusion that ends with a bang.

2. Invite questions. Set up your Q&A in a welcoming tone by saying, “What questions do you have?” rather than, “Does anyone have any questions?” This will position you as open-minded and will elicit a better audience response.

3. Come with your own questions. Come prepared with a couple of questions of your own to get the ball rolling. “No one has a question? Well, here’s one I get asked all the time…” or, “I have a question for you. You are all experts in this field, [insert question]?” You might also ask, “Which parts of the presentation surprised you or were particularly interesting?”

4. Control the time. Don’t allow a Q&A to make your presentation run over your allotted time. When the time is about up say, “We have time for one last question” and then do not take any more. You don’t have to answer every inquiry. If you know you have more than you’ll have time for, just say, “I’ll be right over here after the presentation, and I’ll be happy to answer any additional questions.”

5. Repeat each question. Listen carefully, and then repeat it or paraphrase it. The ensures that everyone in the room hears all the questions, and it gives you a moment to gather your thoughts before responding.

6. Prepare not to have all the answers. Prepare for the most like questions, but you might encounter one you’re not ready for. Be honest if you don’t know the answer. You can promise to get back to the questioner with an answer or, if it’s appropriate for your audience, you can toss the question to the group by saying, “We have a lot of expertise in this room; I’m curious how you would handle this question?” and then quickly become a facilitator. Audiences often enjoy interacting, and people love offering their own insights.

7. Take inappropriate questions offline. If a questioner gets too technical or wildly off-topic, ask them to meet with you later to discuss. Just say, “You are very knowledgeable in this area. I don’t want to lose everyone else here, so let’s talk about that after we wrap up.”

Paul Barton is a public speaking expert based in Arizona. A version of this post first ran on his blog.

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