End With a Bang, Not a Whimper
Even the most polished, experienced speakers can have a bit of anxiety when it comes to the Q&A period. Is an audience member going to ask something you can’t answer? Is someone going to ramble and never actually ask a question? Or worst of all, are you going to hear crickets?
As a street reporter on TV and an anchor for almost 30 years, I’ve had lots of time to practice getting comfortable with the unexpected. More important, it’s led me to believe the Q&A can be a powerful part of your presentation that reinforces your message. All you have to do is look to your everyday experiences to understand that you can handle the post-speech session with panache. For example:
- If you’ve ever negotiated a toy out of the hands of two screaming kids, you can negotiate an end to a long-winded question.
- If you’ve ever navigated complex business deals, you can find your way through any complicated question.
- If you have ever spoken spontaneously anywhere and had a great feeling afterward, you can trust yourself to do it again when you answer questions.
- If your significant other has ever been short-tempered with you, and you deflected the tension, you can use that same skill and trust it with a rude questioner.
As I say, you’ve got the experience; now, let’s discuss Q&A strategies. On TV or radio talk shows, the best answers are the 15-second sound bites, not the run-ons. Keep your answers short and move your eyes to the next hand or to another part of the room as you finish your answer. This signifies to the questioner that his time is up and that you aren’t interested in a follow-up. If he/she insists, politely but firmly say, “Let’s take some others and you and I can chat at the end.”
The Q&A also offers a unique opportunity for up close and personal contact with a questioner, while the rest of the participants listen. When you do it right, everyone in the room feels they’ve had an intimate moment with you, too. That’s a priceless connection for referrals and future work.
Finally, Q&A shows your audience you are a master of fast thinking—particularly for humor, if the opportunity arises. Get an audience laughing during a spontaneous interchange, and you’ve earned a spot on their personal memory sticks, and increased your odds of being asked to speak again.
When you flip your perspective around, you start to understand how the benefits of the Q&A session outweigh the little bit of anxiety and all of the risks. You will get through a tough spot. Look how many you’ve wiggled out of in your lifetime already!