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The Questions and Answer Session

An important part of a speech is the question and answer session in which you respond to questions from the audience. If you handle the Q and A session as an afterthought without careful planning, it can detract from the strength of your presentation.

Disaster Scenarios

  • No one has any questions, so everyone endures an awkward silence, then you thank everyone and sit down. This makes for a weak ending, coupled with a perceived lack of interest in your topic.
  • Someone asks a difficult question, and your brain goes blank. You stumble through an answer. That was the last question, so you feel a little foolish when you sit down.
  • One or more audience members is argumentative. They bait you into an argument, and you get frazzled. Everyone remembers the discord during the Q and A session, and forgets the objectives of your speech

Suggestions for an effective Q and A session:

  • At the beginning of the Q and A session, explain that you’ll be taking questions, but then talk a little further to give them a moment to gather their thoughts.
  • Instead of saying, “Are there any questions, try saying, “What questions do you have?” with the presumption that there will be questions.
  • If no questions are forthcoming, be prepared to “prime the pump” with your own prepared question (“I am often asked whether…” or “I’d like to elaborate on the question that came up earlier about….”.) An alternative is to enlist the help of a friend as an audience "plant" to ask the first question.
  • Begin your answer with full eye contact with the questioner; end with full audience eye contact.
  • Carry the response in the direction of your speech objective.
  • Be cooperative, not defensive. Defensiveness will typically drive away the whole audience, not just the questioner.
  • Don’t argue: you will lose the audience.
  • Don’t let one person monopolize the session. Use humor to spread the questions around.
  • Keep your answers brief. The question and answer session signals the end of the presentation, so if you get long-winded, the audience will get restless.
  • If an audience member pursues a tangent, discuss briefly, offer to discuss further offline.
  • Save the most powerful part of your conclusion until after the question and answer period, then end with a strong finale.

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