How to Create a Happy Q&A Session

Everyone dreads the Q&A session. The speaker dreads the questions that cannot be answered.  Complicated or hostile questions may be asked. The speaker will be put “on the spot.” Listeners dread the Q&A because it can get out of control. People can dominate the session and derail it. Yesterday, I was the victim of a 1-hour Q&A session! Dreadful.

You can confidently lead a Q&A session rather than relinquishing control to the crowd. In fact, they will be delighted when you do! The Q&A session is not the end of your presentation. It is simply an opportunity to make it interactive. Maintain your role as the leader of the experience.

Here are 3 ways to bring clarity and happiness to a Q&A session:

1.  Time

Why: Clearly state how much time you have for questions. There is nothing more valuable than time. Nobody wants to waste time, ever. Nor do they want it mismanaged. Q&A sessions that run over the end of the meeting make everyone late for the next meeting and wastes the time of even more people. It’s a ripple effect.

How: Manage expectations by clarifying how much time will be given to Q&A – and repeat that as you countdown. Tell your listeners it’s a matter of respecting everyone’s busy schedules. You might say: “I want to make sure we stay on schedule so we’ll have 15 minutes for some questions.” A few minutes later, give a reminder: “We have time for only a couple more questions.” Finally, “This will be the last question. I’m happy to take more in phone calls and emails.” Then you must keep your word.   Whatever you say you will do, do it.

2.  Topic

Why: Clarify the subject on which you’ll take questions. The listeners will appreciate the guidance of the interaction. When they know what sorts of questions are welcomed, they can feel confident in asking.   An added benefit is that topic control can make it easier to manage the time. Keep short and frequent Q&A sessions interspersed through a presentation. They are much more effective than the long session at the end.

How: Be clear to say what you want to hear from your listeners. Are you interested in comments or in just questions? Are you interested in hearing challenges? Great! Say so. Clarify the subject on which you’ll take questions. Have the courage to control the interaction by defining the parameters of it. If and when you get a question off topic, park it for later. You might say: “I’d like to keep us focused on XYZ now. We’ll be covering that topic in depth in a few minutes. Would you be willing to ask that question again then?” Sure, if the off-topic question comes from a senior person, use your judgment.

3.  Tell

Why: Tell the listeners the question that was asked. Your listeners are busy people. They have active minds that can wander. They have emails piling up and might check a time or two during your presentation. That’s why you need to tell them the question that was asked – or the comment that was just made. We’ve all been in presentations in which we hear a question being answered but we don’t know what it was.

Telling the question also confirms that you “get it” before you answer. That’s time well-spent!

How: You might hear something like: “How will you include the sales force in the creation of this strategy?” Tell the group the question by saying: “Our approach to including the sales force in the strategy design.” You could also simply rephrase it: “How will we include the sales team as we make our plan?” You can wordsmith it as you like. The important thing is that you tell your listeners the question you will answer.

Clearly lead the Q&A session by setting the boundaries of it. You’ll maintain control of a Q&A session and lead your listeners to a productive experience. That will make them happy!