Many of my coachees ask me how to handle Q&A sessions in presentations or meetings. While delivering a presentation can be daunting, at least you can prepare and be in control of your message and contents. When the Q&A session starts, the big black hole of the unknown opens up and lets out the predators..
Shift your mindset
Questions and objections may feel like an attack on your contents and even your persona. If you manage to shift your mindset you will be able to handle Q&A with more credibility. Think of questions as an invitation to connect with your audience and learn about their concerns. Questions are also an opportunity for you to expand on some elements and give examples that reinforce your message. And remember, the presentation is not about you – it’s about your audience.
Play the devil’s advocate
As you prepare your presentation, put yourself in the shoes of your audience. Think about the questions you would love to be asked, but also the ones that would be challenging, cynical, embarrassing, or that would expose your greatest weakness. Prepare answers for the questions that you can foresee. Organize a test-run with a couple of colleagues and ask them to shoot their toughest questions at you.
What if nobody raises their hand?
Ever had the audience go completely silent when asked “What questions do you have?“. You will encourage more participation if you ask for their comments, feedback, or opinions. You may even give them a direct command: “Now it’s your turn to guide the discussion. What should I clarify or expand on?”. If the silence persists, prompt the first question yourself: “A question I often get,….”.
Listen, clarify and rephrase
Give your full attention to the person asking the question. Keep good eye contact, make sure your whole body is facing them, and if possible take a step forward. This shows confidence and a willingness to connect. Listen carefully to their question and repeat a summarized version back to them. “If I get you right, you would like to know why…., is that correct“? If needed, ask them to clarify or help you understand the reason behind the question. When repeating the question, take care to remove any negative language. The question “Will this not be too expensive?” can be turned into “I understand that you are concerned about the cost“. “Do you really think we can do this?” becomes “You’re asking whether I think it is possible.”
Always thank the person who puts an objection in front of you. They are giving you a second chance to explain what wasn’t covered or convincing enough in your presentation. Acknowledge their perspective as a valid one and express empathy: “That’s a valid concern.” That makes sense.”
When you answer a question, you are returning to your role as presenter. So shift your eye contact back to the entire group and answer the question as simply and concisely as you can, using a conversational tone. Be mindful of the non-verbal messages that your body language and gestures send.
Pause to organize your thoughts before speaking. This shows the audience that you are putting real thought behind your answer. Use a three-part formula of Statement, Support, and Closure. For example: “Yes, we are confident that we can successfully implement this project.” (Statement). “The budget has been approved, the team is up and running, and the first results are very promising”. (Support). “In fact, we may be able to roll-out fast than expected.” (Closure)
Be honest. If you don’t have the answer, admit it and offer to get the information to them later if possible.
To avoid getting stuck with one eager questioner, end your answer with your eyes focused on somebody else. “Who else has a question?”.
Wrap up on a strong note
Even with a more senior audience, you are still the host of your own presentation and need to show ownership until the end. Be prepared to end the session with a few brief remarks, reminding your audience of your key message and providing clarity of the next steps.