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3 Objectives to Assure Control During Q&A

It's just as important to get your points across in a question-and-answer session as it is during your speech; if you don't, you lose an important opportunity to persuade and lead your audience. You've got three interdependent objectives to keep in mind at all times when taking questions. The objectives are hard to separate from each other, and you will stay in control of the question-and-answer session only if you keep all three in mind.

  1. Maintain your credibility and control, no matter what happens. Any time you are not believable, you cast doubt on your entire presentation. And if you get angry or defensive, you lose control. Repeat the question—your audience needs to hear it clearly—and hearing it in your own voice will calm you down.

    My definition of assertive is knowing what you want and getting it effectively while you consider the rights of others. The key to success through assertiveness is staying calm, not being defensive, and being courteous. A powerful speaker is one who keeps control of a situation. If you lose that control by losing your temper, you'll never be able to reassert yourself with your audience.

  2. Satisfy the questioner. But remember, you don't have to answer the question fully. Don't spend too much time with one person. Unfortunately, most of us want to see that look of total approval and acceptance in the eyes of our questioners. But if you spend the time necessary to achieve that look, you will lose the rest of the audience. Answer in a way that makes your best point in relation to your overall objective, break eye contact, and move on. Saying "Jennifer, you've asked an excellent, complex question. Because we have many other people asking questions, this is the way I can answer it in a limited time" is a polite, honest response that keeps things moving along.

  3. Keep the rest of the audience on your side at all costs. Consider the entire audience. You have to let people know you're always considering their time and patience. If you're asked a multiple question such as, "How can I cope with not enough staff, not enough space, and a boss who gives me no real authority?" you might say, "You've asked me three very good questions. Because there are other people in the audience with questions, let me answer one and come back to the others if we have time." That way, you partially answer and still keep the audience with you. The audience will respect you for not letting the questioner monopolize the little time you have to spend with them.

    If you get a question out of left field, pause and ask, "Does anyone else here have a similar concern?" If people don't, answer the question briefly and tell the questioner you'll be happy to stay and speak with him or her after the presentation. This technique also works well with hostile questioners.

One More "Never"

In addition to never be boring, and never say "in conclusion," here's another never: Never ask, "Did that answer your question?" This is often a trap and one that is very difficult to escape. Do you think an argumentative person is going to say yes? A dynamic or argumentative questioner will try to hold on to the spotlight and ask for more clarification. Remember that there is no law that says you must answer every question fully. In a training session you should certainly try, but there are times when it is not possible. The most important of the preceding three objectives is to keep the rest of the audience on your side—too much time with one person will reduce your credibility and effectiveness with the rest of the group

Keep these objectives in mind and you will do fine. All revolve around consideration for members of your audience; and the more considerate you are of them, the more they will be on your side.

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