Updated: Mar 1
Improving public speaking skills involves not just preparing for your presentation but also for the Q&A portion if there will be one.
Have you ever had the following thoughts when preparing for the question and answer session of a talk?
“I’ll look like a fool if I don’t know the answer to a question.”
“How will I fill the awkward silence if no one asks anything?”
“What if I can’t get to every question in the room? People will think I’m a jerk if I don’t take their questions.” Those thoughts have gone through every speaker’s mind at some point before a question and answer session. They keep some speakers up at night. They are even responsible for making the speaker more nervous about the Q&A session than the talk itself.
Here are three ways you can focus on improving public speaking skills by being ready for the Q&A session:
Situation #1: You are stumped by a question
Go ahead and admit that you don’t know. If it seems like others know the answer then it’s OK to ask members of the audience to pitch in. The audience member is looking for information and it doesn’t matter if you or someone else in the audience provides it. You can also promise to research the question and email the audience member or post the answer to your website.
Situation #2: No one asks a question
Turn it around on the audience and ask them questions.
Some examples include:
How will you apply this advice after leaving here today?
What surprised you?
Is there something I didn’t cover that you wish I had? What would you like to know more about?
One more option is to use “Think-Pair-Share” with your audience. Have each member of the audience turn to another person and talk for 5 minutes. Afterwards, ask for questions. The conversations will spark questions and let audience members know that other people have the same questions.
Situation #3: You are out of time
First, plan your speech to end early. Don’t just plan time for the Q&A, but plan extra time. Your speech might get started late or technical problems could slow you down.
Next, have a place where audience members can write down questions. Some speakers collect notecards from the audience. The speaker can choose which questions to answer and which ones to save for a follow-up conversation.
One more route is for speakers to use feedback forms for lingering questions. Speakers can take the questions on the form and post their answers on their website or newsletter. This method allows for more in-depth answers and links to relevant sources and examples.
The success of a Q&A session depends less upon your answers and more upon your frame of mind when handling the situations that scare you the most. Your mind will be at ease and your confidence will be high when you have a solid plan in place for the situations you fear the most.