Public Speaking – How to handle audience questions and answers

Public Speaking – How to handle audience questions and answers

Your speech is polished and your delivery is perfect. The audience laughed in all the right places and even shed a tear. You’re ready to pat yourself on the back for a job well done, but wait. . . there are still questions and answers.

Audience members speak but no one hears them. Someone asks a question that is completely off topic and you fumble trying to think of an answer. The event organizer calls time, the presentation ends, and suddenly you end up not feeling so good.

How can you use Q&A time to your advantage to further enhance your message and end your presentation with a clap instead of a whimper? Read on for tips on how to keep your message in place even when the presentation is over.

Clue 1: If you don’t know the answer, say so

Many of us are ashamed to admit that we don’t know something, especially when we are supposed to be the experts on the scene. However, pretending to know the answer to a question is not the solution.

You can always assume that there are one or two people in the audience, maybe more, who understand your topic well. These people may actually know the answer to the question you are inventing an answer for. Pretending to know the answer only hurts your credibility and makes people wonder if everything you said is accurate.

Don’t risk it. First, anticipate the questions your audience will ask. Prepare in advance for the most obvious questions, but also be prepared for any challenging or confrontational questions.

If you do get a question you don’t know the answer to, just admit it. Say, “I’m not sure how to answer that. I’d like to look into it and get back to you later.”

This is also a great way to invite audience participation. If you don’t know the answer, ask the audience! There are bound to be several people who can answer, and allowing members of your audience to share their knowledge benefits the whole group.

If there is no one in the room who can answer the question, ask for the person’s business card so you can contact them as soon as possible. And don’t forget to do it.

Pointer 2: Always repeat back questions

Sometimes you speak in a large room using a microphone, but audience members are not given microphones to ask their questions. You may hear their questions, but the audience members sitting behind them probably won’t.

Repeat each question asked again to make sure everyone in the room hears it. This seems like an obvious point, but in reality, it doesn’t feel natural for most people to repeat back questions, and it’s often overlooked.

If there are more than about 40 people in the room, you can be sure they won’t hear all the questions. For a smaller audience, use your judgment – you may want to ask the audience if they heard the question before deciding whether to repeat it.

Pointer 3: Don’t end the presentation with questions and answers

The best way to make sure your audience leaves with your loud closing ringing in their ears and your message seared into their brains is to end the presentation after the Q&A.

Depending on how much time you are given for your presentation and how many questions you expect, you may choose to insert a question and answer period up to fifteen minutes or half an hour before the end of your talk.

Let your audience know that after a question and answer session, you will conclude your presentation with some closing remarks. That way, everyone won’t get up and leave after the questions are over.

You now have the ability to bring the focus back to your main points and tie up any loose ends, rather than ending up with a possible off-topic question of your audience’s choice. You also have more control over the timing of your presentation by knowing exactly when to end with questions and answers to wrap up your talk.

Make sure you let the event organizer know about your plan. If this is the person who will be timing you and perhaps thanking you at the end of your speech and making additional remarks to the audience, you don’t want them to think you’ve finished early and it’s time to move on.

Planning the question and answer period as carefully as the rest of your presentation will ensure that your audience leaves with exactly the message you intend to convey to them – and you’ll really earn that pat on the back this time.

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