Updated: Mar 6
If you know my work you know I'm not a fan of the traditional Q&A session at the end of the presentation; it basically tells your audience to suspend THEIR thinking until you are done getting through YOUR content. But many of us have seen what happens when a speaker takes questions during a presentation – somebody asks a question that takes the presentation "off track."
On the surface, taking questions, whether during or after the presentation, seems to be about filling-in the knowledge the audience is getting from you.
It's better to think of taking questions as your listeners filling-in your knowledge of them.
So, why take questions during the presentation? Because the real-time insights you gain enable you to pivot and maximize the meaning, relevance and overall value for your audience. Do it because you are looking for clues regarding:
if your listeners are getting what you are saying (so you make things more clear)
and what matters to them (so you can relate it to the message you want them to receive)
At it's height, taking questions during your presentation creates a rhythm between you and your listeners and sync within the group. Here are some tips on how to coax your group into sync:
1. Don't ask for questions. Ask for thoughts and reactions.
Asking for questions alone puts you in a one-up position over the audience. It implies you are the one with all the answers – the esteemed expert. This discourages listeners from contributing to the conversation and the pool of shared knowledge within the room. Make it as safe as possible for all your listeners to contribute by soliciting thoughts and reactions. Use a warm, inviting voice. Express curiosity.
2. Remember the "let's-talk-one-to-one-after" option.
Of course you'll want to guide the conversation so that it remains highly relevant to the bulk of listeners. Occasionally an individual will ask a question or series of questions that is relevant to her or him but less so to the group. You can treat both that individual and the group with respect by saying to the individual, "Let's you and I stick around after the presentation and talk a little. I'd love to help with those questions."
3. Interrupt politely with "May I respond to something you just said."
When given the floor, some listeners drone on longer than they should. Some repeat their input or their question in numerous ways, or produce a long list of thoughts or questions. One way to look at this is as the commenter losing control, often because they are a bit self-conscious. Once you sense this is happening, politely interrupt to get them back into rhythm. Hold your hand up and say, "Excuse me. May I respond to something very interesting you just said." In most cases, the commenter will recognize they were going long and will gladly comply.
You can only get derailed if you create rails.
None of this works if you are dead set on getting through YOUR content. Don't fear the letting go of control that comes with inviting your listeners to be a part of your presentation. Embrace it. Invite them in. Then LISTEN. If you do, you will get to know your listeners and relate to them in a way you otherwise could not. And your conversational leadership will ensure the entire group has a rich presentation experience.