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
- 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
but then talk a little further to give them a moment to gather their
- 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
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
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
- Don’t argue: you will lose the audience.
- Don’t let one person monopolize the session. Use humor to spread the
- 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
- If an audience member pursues a tangent, discuss briefly, offer to
- Save the most powerful part of your conclusion until after the question
and answer period, then end with a strong finale.