Presentation tips: How to tackle Q&A sessions like an absolute pro

What do training workshops, product pitches, management meetings and conference presentations have in common? Well, if they’re worth their salt, they’ll have an opportunity for their audiences to interact with the person running the session in a questions-and-answers section.

What isn’t guaranteed, however, is that this Q&A part has been thoughtfully constructed and delivered. Many presenters don’t seem to realise that leaving such a vital part of the discussion unplanned can throw off their whole pitch. Why rehearse everything else but leave the Q&A to chance?

If you’ve got an important conference, presentation or workshop coming up, make sure your audience can ask the questions and get the answers they need, by following these simple presentation tips.

  1. Break the ice

Talking continuously throughout most of your time slot and then expecting your audience to pipe up at the end simply isn’t going to work. You need to get them used to the idea of talking from early on in your session to break down the invisible wall between you.

Try integrating easy questions into what you’re saying from the start, so that the participants aren’t too taxed and can easily come up with something to say. That way, when it comes to sharing their views or asking a question at the end, they shouldn’t be struggling to find their voice.

  1. Take the pressure off

Attendees are often reluctant to speak up, simply for the fear of looking stupid. If you’re covering important complex topics, particularly if you have gone to some lengths to explain them, your listeners may be embarrassed to admit that they haven’t completely followed along. You can reduce the chances of this by using an Audience Response System, rather than a show of hands, to anonymise requests for more information.

  1. Give them time to prepare

If you’ve sprung a Q&A session on at the end of your pitch, the audience members may not have thought to jot down any queries they may have had while you were talking. Make sure to intersperse Q&A breaks at key points in your pitch and warn your listeners that they will have the opportunity to answer questions.

  1. Let them get a word in edgeways

If you’re delivering a rigorously rehearsed presentation, there’s a good chance that your audience don’t want to break your flow, no matter how burning their question is. Although interruptions are generally considered rude, you’ll never know if you missed out on an interesting, relevant debate if the moment passes and questions get forgotten because you were on a roll. Remember to pause, and build-in time during your rehearsals that is dedicated to answering questions.

  1. Allocate a realistic amount of time

If you try to squeeze your Q&A round into the last ten minutes of your pitch, it puts a lot of pressure on anyone asking a question for it to be a good one. You can end up discouraging people to interact with you by making them concerned that their question won’t be worthy of the limited time you’ve got left.

Tips for improvement

No matter what the conventional format for your workshop, pitch or lecture may be, try to turn as much as possible into a discussion. Sharing insights and talking to their peers will end up being far more engaging for your audience than a standard, one-sided presentation with a pseudo-interest in talking to them at the end.

Have the questions flowing both ways throughout the presentation. If you do decide to use an interactive tool like an audience response system, mix up the format with quizzes, polls and tests. This can be extremely useful for uncovering the demographics of your audience, sharing their opinions in real time and uncovering surprising trends in their opinions.

Accept that the human attention span has a limit. Don’t let any one speaker drone on for an extended period of time – introduce fresh voices and find ways to keep your listeners focused in short bursts. Make sure they have adequate breaks and refreshments if you’re working as part of a longer conference.

Finally, don’t let your session overrun, even if it’s for good questions and answers. It seems like a shame to cut a good session short, but taking up more than your allotted time won’t please anyone. It can have a knock-on effect to every other session in the day’s schedule and will lose focus as listeners get antsy to leave. Save yourself the pain and schedule your questions and answers into your session more carefully.