While your presentation might be nerve-wracking, the question-and-answer period after you speak can be even more problematical.  You should never enter a Q&A session without having prepared for it.  Here are eight tips for managing these sessions so that you will come out on top instead of hitting bottom:

  • Thoroughly understand the topic of your presentation, so that when you are asked questions on related topics, your expertise shows.
  • Know your audience.  Are you speaking to novices or experts?  A homogeneous group or people from many walks of life?  This analysis can help you anticipate and prepare for the kinds of questions you may be asked.
  • Understand your audience’s hot buttons, the issues that are most pertinent to them.  These topics will be the most likely subject matter on which you’ll receive questions, and being aware of them enables you to prepare more effectivey in advance.
  • Always go into both the presentation and the Q&A with one or two key messages.  These are the themes, advice, or information that you want the audience to remember as the “take-aways” from your appearance.  If you are asked a question that you can’t or don’t want to answer, transition to your key message instead with a phrase like, “While that’s an important issue, I think it’s more important that we (insert key message here).”
  • Anticipate the most likely–and most difficult–questions you can expect to receive.  Then develop responses to them–either a direct answer or a way to transition to a key message.  Provide colleagues with your presentations and get feedback form them on what hard questions they would ask if they were in the audience.
  • Don’t over-talk your answer.  When you’ve responded to the question, stop talking before you dig yourself a deeper hole or reveal something you didn’t intend to discuss.
  • If you are under assault from a member of the audience, regain control by asking a question of your own, such as: “Does anyone here feel differently about this issue?  Who has another opinion?”
  • Assume that everything you say–in both the presentation and Q&A–is public.  Your audience will be Tweeting and blogging to the world while you speak and shortly thereafter, so never assume that your responses in a Q&A session are confidential, even to an internal audience.

-Steve Friedman