Friday, January 14, 2011

11 Q & A Tips to Keep You in Control

How you manage the question-and-answer period following your presentation can be as important as the presentation itself. How we handle questions win or loses sales, builds or destroys careers, and bolsters or undermines public confidence.

During your presentation, you maintained control over your voice, body, and visuals. How do you maintain control during the question period?

Here are eleven tips to help you keep control during Q&A from professional presentation coach and trainer, Mike Scott from Dale Carnegie Training.

  1. Start Strong. So many presenters set up their Q & A period with “Are there any questions?” Often the response is silence, which frequently leads to the presenter wrapping up the presentation with a low-energy, unimpressive closing statement like, “thanks ”. Start strong! Let the audience know you are still “in charge” while transitioning into the question period by saying:

    “We have ten minutes for questions. Who has the first question?”

    In this case, the presenter starts with an assumptive, confident, “bring it on” mentality that positions them as a credible, confident presenter.

  2. Keep Back-Up Questions at the Ready. A lack of questions from your audience can seem to slow the effectiveness of your presentation, but you are a confident presenter! If your audience doesn’t have any questions, have a few questions up your sleeve.

    “One question I’m frequently asked is…”

    “You might wonder about…”

    If the audience has no questions, it doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t interested. Sometimes people just need a few minutes to think. “Back-pocket questions” help presenters give listeners a minute to think of questions. In addition, it is a great way to emphasize an important point or to introduce overlooked content.

  3. Reframe and Unload Questions. Reframe questions to demonstrate that you listen and understand AND to remove “loaded language” from questions. Summarize the question: do not parrot it word for word.

    “The question is…”

    If the question is hostile, this is a great first step in beginning to defuse the confrontation and demonstrate our control and poise to the audience.

  4. Empathize. After reframing, transition with empathy language that demonstrates you are on the asker’s side, looking out for their interests, etc.

    Question: How would you handle a project that requires a lot of public involvement?

    Answer: The question is about our approach to public involvement. [REFRAMED QUESTION] The City needs to make sure that its residents are informed every step of the way [EMPATHY] and our approach is to…

    Our rule of thumb is “less is best”. Remember to keep your answers simple and back up your answers with evidence.

  5. Bite Your Tongue. If you are in a group presentation, fight the urge to “add-on” comments. Often we find the comments added by another presenter do not necessarily add value. In some cases, they actually take away our colleagues’ credibility and communicate a lack of teamwork. In the event a colleague said something glaringly wrong, then, yes, add a comment, but always ask yourself “Is what I’m about to say going to add valuable information?”

  6. Good News Sandwich. If you encounter a hostile question, use the “Good News Sandwich” to respond. Just as the name implies, there are three layers: the two “slices of bread” are the good news, and the “filling” is a difficult or potentially contentious point.

    PART 1: The Good News is that…

    PART 2: While it is true that…

    PART 3: Let me just say….

    Hostile Question: Your firm dropped the ball on the last project. How could you blow the budget so badly?

    Good News Sandwich Answer. The question is about staying on budget. [REFRAME QUESTION WITHOUT LOADED WORDS]. The good news is that of our last 10 projects, 9 of them actually came in under budget. While it is true that the last project experienced a series of change orders because of some very difficult environmental conditions, let me just say that as we moved into the latter stages of that project, we actually trimmed costs enough to come in at only 2% over budget, still well under the industry average and well below the contingency amount.

    Remember even if you have a the perfect answer using the good news sandwich but deliver the answer with a mean-spirited tone or body language our audience might not hear us. They may interpret the tone and body language as a negative, affecting our ability to communicate our overall message. In fact, since we can probably anticipate 75 – 80% of the hostile questions we’ll receive, we’d highly recommend practicing handling hostile Q & A with a colleague and ask for feedback on your body language and tone.

  7. Finish and Move On. Maintain the control as you move between questions by asking:
    “Who has the next question?”

    This approach “closes” the previous response so that you can address new questions.

  8. Maintain Momentum. While it might seem polite to conclude the previous response by asking the audience member if your response answered the question, this can lead to an open-ended (and sometimes hostile) forum. Since you are interested in maintaining control during Q&A, we recommend avoiding the “Did I answer your question?”

  9. Address the Entire Audience. Respond to questions to the whole audience – not just the question asker. If you address the entire audience, you will be less likely to find yourself in a “running conversation” with particular individuals in the audience, which not only slows down the session, it can also make the rest of your audience feel excluded.

  10. Wrap it Up. When time is running out, demonstrate that you are sensitive to time.
    “We have time for one more question. Who has the last question?”

  11. End Strong! Close with a restatement of your presentation’s main point and call to action.
    In closing, selecting our company will give you the technical expertise and available team members to meet your schedule objectives while delivering an award-winning project.
    Most presenters simply wrap up Q & A with “Thanks for the questions.” Let’s remember, the Q & A might have gotten way off topic or could have ended with a hostile question. We need to bring the presentation in for a close with our final closing comment and ensure the audience leaves thinking about our message.

Thanks to Mike Scott. Mike is Executive Vice President & General Manager for Dale Carnegie Training Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Mike leads the client delivery and operational efforts of the third largest Dale Carnegie franchise in the world.

He is a certified Dale Carnegie Course, High Impact Presentations and Corporate Solutions trainer. Over the last year, Mike has led training projects with Lawson, Universal Hospital Services, Johnson & Condon, Prudential, Ryan Companies, Medtronic, Cargill, Thomson Reuters, Egan, Short Elliott Hendrickson, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, Michael Foods, and Pentair Technical Products. Mike is currently ranked among the top 35 trainers in North America.

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