Presenting? Don’t shy away from your Q&A – part 2 [Video]

Close-up of Monopoly game board showing a large question mark and the word "Chance"What do you think it is about answering audience questions that makes many speakers nervous?

I’d say it’s the unpredictability – and having to respond at a moment’s notice.

But, if you’ve read my last post, you’ll know I mentioned 3 steps you can use to help you master your Q&A, from the late Denise Graveline:

  1. Plan your Q&A first
  2. Predict questions you might get – which consists of these topics:
  3. Problem-solve (in advance and on stage)

In this post, you’ll find details of the 2nd and 3rd of those steps.

They come from this 1-hour video (which starts playing from the 18th minute, where Denise discusses predicting questions):


Predict questions you might getScroll to Contents ↑

Predicting questions helps you to feel more confident. And that’s not just good for you. During your Q&A, it comes across to your audience as you being more credible and persuasive, which gives them a great feeling about you and your talk.


What types of questions might you get?Scroll to Contents ↑

With that aim in mind, Denise suggests you think about 3 types of questions:

  • Questions you expect
  • Questions you want
  • Questions you fear

And it’s helpful to treat those with balance. She says:

“Most people never get the questions they fear.
But they spend an enormous amount of time
thinking about them in advance”
Denise Graveline – at 18:10

If you focus too much on the questions you fear, there are several drawbacks:

  • You’ve less time to spend preparing for the questions you want.
  • You waste mental energy through worry.
  • You weaken your whole talk by feeding your nerves.

As Denise puts it:

“We’re all really good at the
critical part of critical thinking”
Denise Graveline – at 18:58

So remember to give yourself enough time to prepare for the questions you expect – and the ones you want – which I’ll look at next.


What should you focus on in advance?Scroll to Contents ↑

To take some pressure off yourself, remember your listeners’ attitude:

“We want you to be not the expert,
but we expect you to be an expert”
Denise Graveline – at 22:42

So Denise’s tip here’s this:

“Think about the nice questions,
the questions you want first.
And think about the questions that you’re
afraid of, but don’t let them overtake you”
Denise Graveline – at 18:42

Something else I recommend: Structure your talk using the questions you expect. That way, you’ll make your talk seem custom-made for your audience, which deeply engages them.

And, if you use slides during your talk, you can make what I call a “theme slide” for each question you predict. That lets you keep changing slides during your Q&A, which keeps people visually engaged, too.


Problem-solve (in advance and on stage)Scroll to Contents ↑

When you think about problem-solving, you can break down Denise’s advice into these topics:


What can you do to avoid sounding defensive?Scroll to Contents ↑

You don’t want to sound defensive during your Q&A, as that appears untrustworthy.

So here’s one thing you can do to problem-solve while you’re taking questions. In fact, you can help solve the issue by framing your attitude beforehand, too:

“Your goal should be not to react to [each] question,
but to respond to the question – two different things…
Reacting to the question has a lot more emotion.
Responding… doesn’t have much emotion at all.”
Denise Graveline – at 23:25


What if you don’t even understand the question?Scroll to Contents ↑

Here’s some advice if you have trouble knowing what the question actually means:

“It’s totally fair for the speaker then,
to ask some questions of your own…
‘Tell me a little bit more about that question.’
‘Help me understand…’

Denise Graveline – at 25:48

That way, you open a dialogue with the person who asked the question. And that’s a great way to connect more with your whole audience.


What can you do to be fair?Scroll to Contents ↑

Denise urges you to be fair when calling on people to ask questions. And above all on that score, she mentions gender and other types of diversity:

“There are reams of stories about women being ignored
when they have their hands up to ask questions”
Denise Graveline – at 24:16

She also suggests getting questions from all over the room – not just from right in front of you:

“Make sure you’re looking at that person in
the back row, or on the side of the room as well”
Denise Graveline – at 25:28


What if the questioner doesn’t actually ask a question?Scroll to Contents ↑

As Denise says, you’ve probably seen Q&A sessions where an audience member put up their hand but didn’t actually ask a question. They just wanted to make a point of their own, or show how much they knew about the topic.

She says:

“Most speakers get really annoyed…
And a better way for you to handle it would be to
listen to them, and acknowledge and thank them and say
‘Thank you, that’s a very useful perspective. Next question.’
Denise Graveline – at 30:11

But what if the questioner’s taking up too much time – as people who are showing off often do? Here’s Denise’s advice on that:

“You can stop them, and use the kind of tactic that
you hear on talk radio, which is when the host says
‘Is there a question? Do you have a question?’
Denise Graveline – at 30:54


What if you don’t know the answer?Scroll to Contents ↑

Here’s a tip that might surprise you: You can help to offset any questions you don’t know the answer to. How? By leaving out key details from your talk (as I mentioned in my last post).

Denise puts it like this:

“If you know that you’re going to get a question
about something, and you leave [the answer] out…
you will get that question, and guess what?
Then you already know the answer”
Denise Graveline – at 6:18

For more tips on this, see 8 ways to say “I don’t know” gracefully, by Denise Graveline. For instance, your options include these 2 gems:

“I wish I knew that.”
“I don’t know, but perhaps someone else here does?”


Over to youScroll to Contents ↑

Here’s a reminder of what you saw in this post:

  1. Predict questions you might get
  2. Problem-solve (in advance and on stage)

Which of Denise’s tips is your favourite? Let me know in the comments.


Also check outScroll to Contents ↑


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