How to overcome the awkward Q & A silence.
"ARE THERE ANY QUESTIONS?" All too often what follows your speech or presentation is an awkward silence. After presenting a strong program and wrapping up with a powerful close, you may assume that no questions means that everything presented was clearly understood. Or - gulp! - that there was no interest in the material.
Often the audience just isn't ready to ask questions; they're still trying to understand the information you presented. Before their listeners have ever had a chance to formulate questions, speakers often have quickly scanned the room for inquiring hands, seen none, thanked everyone for coming and made their exit.
By following the strategies below, you can begin to change these dynamics by allowing your audience more time to compose questions, and to expand their grasp on the material presented.
- Ask the audience questions. This allows participants to overcome any hesitation, keeps them alert, and prompts them to ask their own questions. Just be sure to come prepared with a number of questions to ask the audience.
- Respond to an awkward silence by saying, "One of the more common questions I get regarding this is ..."
- Surf for greater knowledge and understanding on a particular topic by asking, "What other thoughts do you have about that?" before moving on to the next topic.
- Purposefully omit material you know will evoke certain questions. When the questions are asked, give a prepared answer that appears spontaneous and you will appear very knowledgeable about the topic.
- Don't call on the first person to raise a hand. That person is usually eager to challenge you on the topic. By waiting, you increase everyone's thinking time and diffuse potentially hostile responses.
- Distribute a handout that provides broad information but lacks details or explanation. Ask participants to study the handout alone or with a partner and to mark areas they don't understand or need further clarification on. Reconvene and begin answering their questions.
- Choose a random participant and have him or her ask another participant a question about the topic. That respondent in turn chooses a different participant and asks another question. This continues until every person has answered a question. This also serves as a good review exercise and gets everybody involved in the process.
- Embarrassment or shyness keeps many listeners from raising their hands. To avoid this, hand out 3x5-inch cards and explain that audience members should write down anything, no matter how foolish the questions may seem. After the presentation, collect the cards in a basket and have each person draw one and attempt to answer the question written on it. Offer guidance and encourage open discussion of each question before moving on to the next.
- Plant colleagues or friends in the audience. Contact these people either by phone or while you're mingling with the audience before the presentation. Simply ask them for some help during the talk. If they agree, tell them to raise their hand during the Q&A session and ask questions that you have prepared for them.
So what happens when the audience warms up and begins bombarding you with questions? Some speakers find this the most exciting part of the presentation. Others dread it, because they fear being asked something they can't or don't want to answer. However, preparation is key to helping you answer questions confidently. Begin by writing down as many possible questions you can think of, even the most difficult ones, and then practice answering them before the event.
The Q&A session may seem like an afterthought, or something to be avoided. But it is in fact a useful tool that allows you to clarify information the audience may not have understood and to repeat important points.
By practicing the strategies above, you will be able to replace the awkward silence with a show of eager hands and a barrage of questions, meanwhile honing your leader-ship skills, knowledge, credibility and professionalism.