Saturday, June 30, 2007

Never Never Never End A Speech With Q and A

Think back to the last presentation you gave or the last one you attended as an audience member. I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts (whatever that means) that the presentation ended with a Q&A session. Perhaps there was even a colorful PowerPoint slide with a giant question mark on it or it simply read “Questions?” Very creative.

It’s hard to pick the biggest mistake most presenters make, but ending on Q&A has to be up there in the top three.

So you might be asking, “What are we supposed to do? Every presentation should have questions at the end.”

To answer that question, let’s look at all the things that can go wrong during the question and answer portion of the program.

1. There are no questions. Yikes! Talk about an uncomfortable silence. (Check back in a few days for a post about out how to solve the “no questions” problem.)

2. Questions take you off topic. A waste of your time and everyone else’s.

3. The questions turn negative. Some colleague or customer wants to assert himself/herself by tearing you down. Not fun.

4. You get asked legitimate questions for which you have no answer. Ouch. Even if you say you’ll find the answer and get back to the questioner, your credibility takes a hit.

5. The Q&A session is flat. Nothing good or bad happens, but the energy and enthusiasm you worked so hard to generate during the presentation simply vanishes.

6. Finally, most of the time during Q&A people just want to get the heck out of Dodge. In many people’s minds the learning is over and they’re just sitting quietly waiting to leave (and secretly hoping that no one will ask another question).

So when do you let your audience ask questions? You have two options.

One, encourage them to ask questions throughout your presentation. This is the best way to handle questions because there isn’t a formal Q&A session that puts you on the spot. Plus people might forget a question they want to ask if they have to wait until the end. But be prepared, if the audience peppers you with throughout you speech, don’t let them throw off your rhythm.

The second option is to have your Q&A as the second to last thing you do. This way you signal to the audience that there’s more to come, that they should stay engaged and that the Q&A will not go on forever. I like to open Q&A by saying, “Before I make my final point, what questions do you have about my presentation?”

And just what is the “final point” you ask? Tune in tomorrow.

Time to Hit Your Stride

Your Turn #1
Do a little experiment. Pay attention to the way the next three presentations come to a conclusion. Was it Q&A? What was the energy level in the room? What was the mood of the audience as everyone filed out?

Your Turn #2
Try the “questions throughout method” in your next presentation. You might be surprised to see the level of engagement go up. And your speech will feel more like a dialog than a monologue.

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