How to Maintain Control of the Q&A Following a Presentation

Controlling the Q&A

You’ve just delivered a great presentation. Now it’s time for the Q&A and the first person to raise her hand asks: “Can you give me more details about this new technology?” and you’re left speechless. You don’t have the answer.

Bring a Content Expert

The Q&A following a presentation can be more important than the presentation itself. If you flub the group discussion you’ve lost your audience.

Be prepared for any question, including the ones you can’t answer yourself.

In that case, be sure to have a content expert available who does know the answers. It’s perfectly acceptable to reply, “I’ve asked Pete Johnson to join us to answer your technical questions. He’s our Director of New Product Development.” Then, hand the question off to Pete.

Be sure that you and Pete have reviewed how you’re going to reply to potential questions, even the ones you’d rather not answer at all, such as details regarding your organization’s intellectual property.

Audience Analysis

Whenever you prepare for a speaking engagement, take some time to familiarize yourself with your audience. Talk with the chairperson or organizer to find out as much as possible about the participants.

Knowing your audience is critical before preparing your presentation. It is just as important when you’re answering questions because you never know when someone is going to throw you a curve ball.

Learn as much as you can about the audience including:

  • Who they are.
  • How they were selected to be participants.
  • Who the report to and if the decision-maker will be in the audience.
  • How much they know about the topic.
  • If they are friendly or hostile to your position.
  • Where they’ve gotten their information.
  • What information do they want? What do they need?
  • The attitude your listeners might have toward you, your subject, and your organization.

After rehearsing your presentation, prep yourself for the three or four questions you expect that will make you squirm – such as how and why you decided on premium pricing for your product.

You don’t want to answer these “squirmer” questions but you’ve got to or else the audience will turn on you. Put all pertinent information such as dates, prices, and names on cards for quick recall during the Q&A.

Review your key messages so that you can weave them into the informal group discussion.

Guidelines for the Q&A 

These guidelines can help you to maintain control and have a positive and productive Q&A:

  • Be aware of your posture and body language. Although the formal presentation may have concluded, you are still “on stage.”
  • When asked a question, pay attention to the questioner. Don’t do anything distracting such as drinking water or writing a note.
  • Ask each questioner to state his name and affiliation first and then repeat or paraphrase each question when speaking to a large audience.
  • Maintain eye contact until that person finishes asking the question. Then shift eye contact to other audience members. Complete your response by looking at a different person. This discourages someone from asking follow-up questions and dominating the discussion.
  • Reply simply and directly. Don’t make another speech. Remind questioners to keep their questions short and you should not let their questions become speeches either.
  • If you’re not prepared with an answer to a question, say something like, “Mr. Smith is our expert on that and I’d like to check with him so that I can get you the correct information. I’ll be back to you by (when).”
  • If someone doesn’t jump right up with a question, pose a question yourself about something you stated in the presentation.

It’s essential to maintain control, even if there is a hostile “know-it-all” in the audience. Just one bully can wreak havoc and change the energy in the room.

Know when to end the Q&A. Close the session on a high note with a recap of the important points in your presentation that reinforce why they came to hear you speak.

Then issue a call to action for something you want, which is why you came to speak.

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