You have completed the difficult work of creating your presentation—and it is awesome! You have rehearsed thoroughly so that the entire presentation flows well from point to point, your slides are clear and appealing, and you have created an engaging beginning and a powerful ending. All well done. Then, the questions begin. The first one takes you by surprise. The second one is challenging. And the third one…well…it stumps you. Your fabulous presentation begins to feel rocky.
Don’t let this happen to you. With proper planning and a little practice, you can rock the Q&A as much as you do the rest of your presentation.
- Plan ahead. When planning your content, put yourself in the mindset of the audience or listener. What do they want to hear? What will they ask? If you have experience with your audience or listeners it should be fairly easy to predict most of the questions that might arise. If you can’t guess what questions might arise, ask someone who knows your audience to brainstorm with you. Then be sure you have answers for all these possible questions.
- Maintain powerful body language. When the questions begin, be sure to maintain your power by standing still on both feet (think “power pose”,) keeping your hands relaxed and open (think steepling,) and your face pleasant but neutral. Don’t move in too close to the person challenging you, but don’t back off either. And keep your eye contact steady as you listen to the question or challenge.
- Listen up. You may think you know exactly where the question is going…and be completely wrong. Listen before you begin thinking of your answer. This is respectful and it shows patience and self-control.
- Use a Neutral Bridge. A Neutral Bridge is a transition between the question and your answer. Instead of saying, “that’s a good question” try a neutral bridge as a transition. It allows you to restate the question so everyone can hear it in your words. It can help you to reframe a difficult question by eliminating trigger words or exaggeration as you restate the question. Click to learn more about neutral bridges.
- Keep it conversational. When you are in front of an audience, the neutral bridge works very well. But in a small group or conversational setting you’ll want to make it sound conversational, not too formal or stiff. Try words like, “you’re asking about X,” or “when we think about X…” Try to keep the bridges simple; sometimes we elaborate them more than necessary by adding words like, “if I understand you correctly.” My suggestion is to bridge simply.
- Don’t show irritation. Maybe you stated something you thought was clear, or completely obvious. Now they are asking you about it again. Instead of letting your irritation show, keep a neutral face and consider it an opportunity to review and reinforce something you said earlier. Remember that people often need to hear something more than once, so there is a benefit in restating key information.
- Consider using stories/anecdotes and humor. You may have a great story that illustrates your point effectively. This could be a perfect time to use that story, because it humanizes the answer, and because stories engage our emotions, and we tend to remember them better than facts. You could even reserve a story or example specifically to use in your Q&A.
- Use a variety of bridges and mirroring techniques. Sometimes we get caught up in using the same bridge over and over. Even a great bridge becomes obvious if you use it too often. So mix it up a bit. Use different bridges in different situations, and make up your own ways to restate the question. If you get into the habit of rehearsing your answers to questions (something I recommend, especially when stakes are high or emotions are running hot,) you can practice a variety of bridges at the same time.
- Answer the question to everyone in the room. It is very easy to keep looking at the person who asked the question, especially when they are high-ranking or when they have a stake in the situation. This can escalate the pressure on both of you. Instead, look at the person while they are asking the question, and begin your answer while looking at them. After a moment, begin to move your eye contact slowly around the room, so you can keep everyone engaged. End with returning your eye contact to the person with the question, or by moving on to another person if you would rather keep moving forward.
- Move ahead. Instead of getting stuck and unable to move forward, simply ask for the next question, or move on to the next slide, the next agenda item, or the next point you wanted to make. Your audience will appreciate you for moving things along, and you can often avoid an awkward pause or head off another question.
Bottom line: Q&A can be a stumbling block or the crown jewel in your presentation. Plan well and rehearse appropriately, and you will find it enhances your ability to connect with your audience while reinforcing your key messages.