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VIEWPOINT: ANSWERING QUESTIONS WITH EASE

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Your audience has just been informed, inspired or educated by your thought-provoking talk. The floor is now open to the audience to ask you questions. While you cannot predict what questions your audience will ask, you can prepare yourself on how to respond to them.

OPENING UP THE Q&A SESSION

Ask: ‘What questions do you have?’ versus ‘Do you have any questions?’ Take questions from all parts of the room. Hand out 2–3 questions to audience members before your talk to initiate questions.

If you are dealing with a shy audience say, ‘The question I most often get asked is …’ Before you transition into the Q&A session, ask the audience to partner up and discuss what they have just learnt – the discussion spurs audience questions.

SETTING EXPECTATIONS

Pre-frame your talk by saying, ‘Please hold your questions until the end of my talk.’ In this way, you will be allowed to speak without anyone disrupting the flow of your thoughts.

By answering a question you are effectively transferring control to your audience.

As a speaker, it is important to maintain the control of your audience until you are ready to hand over that control. Remember that one question leads to more questions. If time is short, say: ‘I only have time for two questions.’

RESPONDING TO QUESTIONS

Once you have answered a question, ask: ‘Does that make sense?’

Rephrase their question to ensure you understand it.

After you have answered a question, get the audience to applaud the person who asked the question – in this way you instil the belief that asking questions is good.

Frame your response if it involves multiple points by saying, ‘Firstly, secondly, thirdly.’ Keep your response brief.

DEALING WITH DIFFICULT DELEGATES

As a speaker, you don’t have to know everything. For difficult questions, be open with the audience by saying, ‘That’s an interesting question, is there anyone in the audience that knows the answer to this question?’ You then turn a question into a learning environment. If nobody is able to answer the question, make a note to get back to the audience member after your talk.

If someone is trying to get your attention while you are speaking, acknowledge the person non-verbally – by nodding your head at them or showing your palm up in their direction. Continue with your talk and answer the question when you are ready to do so.

If someone asks a question about a topic that you have just covered, avoid showing your irritation and ask the audience, ‘Is there anyone who would like to answer this question?’

In this way you allow an audience member to share their knowledge.

You can then add any additional points.

SOUND ADVICE

  1. You are the last to speak. After responding to the last question, conclude your talk.
  2. Maintain your composure. Limit your body gestures and stage movement while answering a question.
  3. Re-emphasise points you made during your talk. Try to avoid introducing new content during a Q&A session – it confuses your audience.
  4. Walk away from the questioner as you respond. By moving in the opposite direction it avoids looking like a one-on-one conversation but rather a response that involves the entire audience.
  5. Soften your facial expressions. Avoid the tense and irritated look – you are still having a conversation with the audience.

Author: Dineshrie Pillay CA(SA) is a business owner and public speaker trainer