Stop Q&A hypnosis!

In this post:


The pain: What most audiences see

During Q&A at the end of a talk, you know how most presenters show a slide saying something like “Questions” the whole time? As you can see here, that can quickly get very boring to look at, causing your audience’s minds to wander:

Well, here’s a far more engaging technique, so not only will you grab people’s attention, you’ll also come across as being really polished. This technique’s particularly handy when you present online, where your audience can get distracted all too easily.


What your audience will seeBack to top ↑

To get a feel for what I have in mind, imagine you’ve just finished presenting slides about a proposed solution to a problem your audience is facing, and you’re taking questions. Someone asks a question about how long your solution will take, and the specifics of their question aren’t covered by any of your slides. So, while you answer, you instantly show this slide – just as though it’s the next slide in your deck:

That gives your audience something interesting and relevant to look at, without distracting them with too much detail.

Next, suppose someone asks about details on the costs of your proposed solution. As before, imagine the question is about specifics that aren’t on one of your slides, so you show this slide while you answer, again as though you’d planned for this question to come next:

Because your slides respond to people’s questions, isn’t that process so much more engaging than showing a generic “Questions” slide throughout your Q&A?

Now that you’ve seen what this technique looks like for your audience, let’s see how it’s done from your viewpoint, as the presenter.


How’s it done?Back to top ↑

Q&A is often seen as different from the main part of a talk because it’s freeform, so most presenters just make 1 slide for it, saying “Questions”. But here’s a way you can stand out from about 99.9% of presenters! The technique has 3 steps:

  1. Make slides for each theme you expect people to ask about (e.g. time, money, etc).
  2. Print numbered thumbnails of your slides.
  3. Jump to the right slide during Q&A.


Step 1: Make slides for each theme↑ Up to “How to” section

To get you started, these 7 themes cover many common questions, but your own list of themes might vary depending on your particular topic and audience:

  • Time
  • Money
  • Problem
  • Solution
  • Past
  • Future
  • Location

For your Q&A, make each slide with a photo of a theme your audience will likely ask about. It’s also a good idea to make 2 or more slides for each theme, so you can show a different photo if the same theme recurs later in your Q&A. For instance, here’s 1 more slide each for “time” and “money”:

Because you can’t predict exactly what questions your audience will ask, choose photos that illustrate a theme quite broadly. All the same, each photo needs to represent the theme clearly. Also, I suggest you don’t add any text (such as a caption) to the slides, as that tends to make them too specific.

Another tip is to create a couple of generic “Question” or “Discussion” slides (again with a large photo on each one) for 2 good reasons:

  • They give you a slide to show at the start of your Q&A, before anyone’s asked a question.
  • If someone asks a question about a theme you haven’t made a slide for, you can show one of your generic “Discussion” slides so there’s still something new for the audience to look at.

Here are 2 examples:

Few people realise you can use 1000s of photos like these on your slides for free – and without leaving PowerPoint. (That’s how I got the photos for all the slides shown in this post.) You just choose Insert > Clip Art and then choose to search for photos only. For more details, see How to find 1000s of great free photos for your PowerPoint slides.


Step 2: Print numbered thumbnails of your slides↑ Up to “How to” section

The best way to print numbered thumbnails of your slides is take a screenshot of Slide Sorter view, for 2 reasons:

  • You can fit all of your slides on just a couple of pages, which is a lot easier to handle than having a whole pile of paper!
  • PowerPoint numbers the thumbnails for you, in a far bigger font than if you added slide numbers. (Having slide numbers on your slides can often distract your audience a bit, too.)

(Note: Thanks to Olivia Mitchell for suggesting the current step 2.)


Step 3: Jump to the right slide↑ Up to “How to” section

When someone asks a question during your Q&A, you can use a little-known PowerPoint feature to jump straight to a slide that matches the question, just as though you’d foreseen what people would ask next! Your audience will likely be awestruck, wondering how on earth you could be in such command of your topic…

This is how it’s done:

To jump straight to a given slide while you’re in a slideshow,
just type the slide’s number and press Enter.

So to jump to slide 30 for instance, you type 30 and press Enter. This is where your printed thumbnails come in, because you can use them to see the number of any slide – without interrupting your slideshow. (Or, you can use Presenter View.)

In fact, I suggest you do this:

Get a colleague to help by
handling the jumps between slides.

That’s because you’ve already enough on your plate during your talk – especially when answering questions! So your colleague could sit at your laptop with your printed thumbnails on the desk, ready to jump to any slide during your Q&A as required.

So there you go – that’s how I suggest you avoid the Q&A hypnosis that most presenters put their audience through!


Background and resourcesBack to top ↑

This tip was inspired by a webinar called Take the Virtual Stage by Ken Molay of Webinar Success. You can watch the webinar replay just by giving GoToWebinar your details. Ken’s excellent handout is also available – without registering. It’s full of great advice on presenting in person and online, from an expert in the field.

To keep attention on your talk, Ken rightly suggests you show each slide for an average of just 1 minute when you present online. During the webinar Q&A, though, I was struck by the fact that the same slide stayed on-screen for 10 minutes. (In the webinar replay, see from 45’45” to 56’ on the timeline.)

It’s like I said earlier – most presenters treat Q&A quite differently from the main part of their presentation. But if you prepare a few photo slides as shown in this post, you can make your own Q&A much more engaging than nearly all presenters out there.


Over to youBack to top ↑

  • What do you think?
  • Might this technique make your Q&A seem rigged?
  • What other common question themes would be good to make slides for?


Check out these related postsBack to top ↑

To see 3 or more new ways to keep people focused on you while you answer questions during your talk (rather than in your Q&A session), see Black is back, but better.

For 8 more ways to stop people’s minds wandering while you present, also see my post called Intrigue people (FiRST framework – part 1i).

And for a simple 2-step method to set up your laptop for a face-to-face event so (as soon as you start your laptop) your slideshow’s already waiting for you on your 1st slide, see How to start your slideshow instantly.

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4 thoughts on “Stop Q&A hypnosis!

  1. Lovely idea: we’ve been teaching it on our courses for a long time and people seem to really love it.

    A refinement that we use is to intersperse these slides with black slides. That way you can move from a ‘content’ slide using a (subtle and suitable) transition (not that Powerpoint has many of those!) into a black slide, then jump to the blackslide which is before the next ‘content’ slide that you want to show. The audience doesn’t see a move from black to black of course and you can now move with a subtle(!) transition out of black to your content.

    Your idea for content slides is slick. This makes it *look* slick too! :)

  2. This is a great suggestion. I’ve got a fine-tuning idea – instead of printing out your notes pages (means you’ve got a lot of paper to manage) do a screenshot of slide sorter view and print that – that way you can have a number of slides on the same piece of paper say 15 or 20 AND you’ll have the slide numbers. I use this in face-to-face presentations too.

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