Q&A is like unchartered territory – unpredictable and full of surprises. It’s a double edged sword, either reinforcing your message or undermining it. One wrong move and you may lose the credibility you’ve worked hard to build as a speaker.

Many speakers – even seasoned ones – are intimidated in this area but who wouldn’t be? You can’t know the questions that will be coming your way. It’s one thing to talk to a crowd but another when it’s a two-way dialogue taking place.

Q&A sessions are not just a matter of conveying the message – it’s also receiving on your end as well – which makes sense why so many can get stage fright, and possibly a break a cold sweat just thinking about it. Naturally, it happens to most people that may not have gone for presentation skills training, but it’s more common than you think.

Either way, whether you love or hate it, Q&A sessions are an essential tool. It makes your talk a subject of conversation and a way to connect with your audience. With a bit of preparation, research and determination, you can leverage on the Q&A session to help elevate your talk and reinforce your credibility as a speaker.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help ensure your Q&A sessions are as smooth-sailing as possible:

1)    Q&A Objectives

A good Q&A session is more than just an allocated time slot for your audience to ask random questions.

The purpose of a Q&A like any presentation, speech or pitch needs to have a clear objective that meets the goal at the end of the day. That means making it evident of the direction you want the session to go.

If you do make use of a moderator, a good one would already be guiding your session to the desired direction easily.

2)    Hold a briefing session before the event

It is vital that you brief everyone before your presentation so they are prepared which in turn, can provide the best experience for your audience.

Clarify any issues, questions or instructions from the people working behind the scenes such as stage managers and moderators before running through the event program so everything is in place and running smoothly.

3)    Dedicate enough time

This is something you should establish earlier on in the planning stages of your session. Timing for a Q&A session depends on your set up. If your Q&A session will be conducted after your presentation, then a good 15 minutes should be given. However, if it is a team presentation, then the time given should be extended to ensure each presenter gets a chance to answer the questions as well.

Speakers often focus their efforts into the presentation and leave the remaining time allocated to a Q&A session. This means the audience can only answer one or two questions at best. This compromises further engagement with the audience.

To further engage your audience and strengthen your credibility as a speaker, the Q&A session should match the length of the presentation. You can even consider switching it the other way round where your presentation is short and sweet followed by a longer Q&A 

4)    Prepare questions beforehand 

“Over prepare then go with the flow” – Regina Brett

It doesn’t hurt to over prepare – after all it’s the backbone of success. To ensure you’re not caught off guard or flustered over the questions the audience may ask, think of a few to anticipate beforehand.

Make it a habit to write down these questions down especially the tough or controversial ones before rehearsing your answer. Run a mock session with your trusted and reliable colleagues, friends or family to ensure your answers are well thought of and don’t offend your audience. The evaluation and feedback given from the mock session is key to helping you improve as a speaker.

But, if there are a lack of questions asked during your presentation, don’t shy away from initiating first. Not only do you avoid awkward silences, it also helps to kick start the discussion and inspire more questions from the audience.

5)    Engage a strong moderator

If you need someone to moderate your Q&A session, then it’s important to choose a good moderator as they can help boost the effectiveness of your Q&A. Ultimately, the role of the moderator is to bridge the gap between the audience and the speaker. Hence, they need to be someone who is comfortable with being on stage, able to handle pressure and facilitate the conversation – not join in or control it.

A good moderator ensures the purpose of the session is intact, is able to guide the questions back to the main topic of the session as well as prevent the session from being hijacked by a troublesome audience member. Make sure to take these considerations in mind when finding a good moderator.

6)    Collect Questions Ahead of the Event

Throughout the event, you can start collecting questions before and during your speech. This is helpful in several ways. You as the speaker will be able to plan how to address these questions. The moderator will be able to guide the session better.For the audience, they’re able to ask questions that truly matter instead of scrambling to think of one that may not be useful to them or you. It’s a win-win situation.

One of the ways to collect questions beforehand is using Mentimeter or Kahoot. Both are polling tools where you or your audience can set questions or provide input via a mobile phone or any other device connected to the Internet.

7)    Use the right tools and equipment

Are you planning on having your audience ask their questions vocally or online? Either way, make sure that these tools are able to function with ease during the session itself.

If you’re making use of a microphone, ensure the volume of the microphone is loud enough that even the audience from the back are able to hear the questions asked loud and clear. If you’re facilitating the questions online, then make sure the Wi-Fi or internet is strong so you can receive their questions easily.

8)    Pause

It’s not life or death situation if you need a moment to think before answering a question. Sometimes, answering too quickly may make you seem defensive to the audience so it’s okay to take a few seconds to indulge the question. Not only that, answering instantly may wind up making you stumble over your answers which in turn makes them doubt your credibility. Worse, you may even make the mistake of answering nothing related in your haste.

Although it may be awkward to pause due to the silence, your audience won’t think badly of it. In fact, they will appreciate that you took the time to process their questions. You’ll also look more genuine and authentic as a speaker – not a scripted, monotonous robot.

9)    Reduce filler words

Although not everyone is graced with speaking fluently in front of an audience, constantly saying ‘um’, ‘well’, ‘you know’ and ‘uh’ will do little to establish your credibility as a speaker. These filler words will also annoy your audience when used repetitively.

But what you can do is reduce using these fillers when speaking. Make it a habit to pause so you can gather your thoughts before you speak. Better to take a few seconds to speak in a cohesive manner than instantly speaking, stumbling over your words.

10) Get straight to the point

Often times, speakers beat around the bush when answering questions during Q&A. It may or may not be intentional as there are other factors that can cause the speaker to answer the questions in a long-winded manner.

For instance, they may not have listened closely or they may not have not known how to answer the question and decided to change the topic. Either way, it doesn’t matter. Beating around the bush will only compromise your credibility as a speaker.

So before you answer a question, make sure to listen carefully. Then, make sure to give a short and straight forward answer.

This brings me to my next point.

11) Confirm that you’ve answered the question

After answering a question, always make sure you clarify if you have truly answered it. Throughout the Q&A session, make it a habit to ask if you’ve answered the question or if your answer was clear. It shows you care and that their needs are being met.

12) Don’t get thrown off by the awkward or random question

Elon Musk mentions that even the most well-prepared and organised presentation can go haywire if the speaker is confronted by irrelevant, random and awkward questions.

If you’re lucky, you won’t encounter this. Nonetheless, it’s still important to be prepared to face it and answer as professionally as possible before tying it back to the topic.

This may take a few tweaks here and there especially when It comes to mastering how to handle awkward questions. With that being said, even if the questions asked are not related, answer it honestly anyway. It may end up being the answer you are most remembered for.

One example is Former President Bill Clinton who encounters being asked a totally random question: “Boxers or Briefs?”. Although the question was puzzling and did not tie with his speech, he answered anyway.

Here’s a video of Elon Musk calmly tackling random and awkward questions after his presentation:

Notice how most of the audience members in the video ask long-winded questions. Elon Musk does not harshly tell them off but firmly says “No essays, only questions” to bring them back on track.

13) Learn How to Handle a Tough Audience

Of course most of the questions asked by the audience are sincere. Their intentions are never to hurt or bring malice upon the speaker.

But sometimes, we are faced with audience members who ask questions intended to make themselves look smarter, put the focus on them or, make the speaker look dumb and undermine their credibility

Whatever the purpose is, there many ways to come out unscathed when handling a tough crowd. Despite so, always make sure to be the bigger person. Answer all their questions with professionalism and keep your emotions in check.

Ending the Session

And we’re nearing the end! You’re almost done so make sure to end the session off strong.

Summarise in one or two short sentences encompassing the message of your talk and always make sure to thank the audience for their time and attention – even if they were a tough audience.

Always be humbled by the audience’s presence even if the talk did not go as plan. This sincerity in turn, may keep your audience coming back for more – or at least leave a long lasting impression on them.

Summing It Up 

The best Q&A sessions are ones where you provide your audience with a voice and a safe space for interaction. Not just for the sake of having one.

It all boils down to one purpose: to enhance their learning experience after your presentation or speech.

With that being said, Q&A sessions are only one of the many factors that help you craft an impressive presentation. Make sure to put in the same amount of effort and dedication to planning and executing your presentation as well, and you’ll definitely have a presentation with that ‘wow’ factor.

Don’t forget to implement the 13 steps mentioned to help maximise your Q&A session’s potential and added value. Remember to:

  1. Prepare yourself and others
  2. Know your objective the the Q&A session
  3. Brief others of your plan
  4. Delegate enough time
  5. Anticipate and prepare questions that may be asked
  6. Ensure you have a strong moderator
  7. Make use of the right tools to enhance your session
  8. Pause to ensure your point sinks in
  9. Do not rush and stumble on your words, reduce filler words
  10.  Don’t beat around the bush
  11. Ensure if you’ve answered the questions properly
  12. Don’t get thrown off by awkward questions
  13. Learn to handle a tough crowd

Let us know and comment down below if it worked for you!

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Sofia Hafirda

Sofia is a creative strategist with a penchant for writing and film. When she's not busy putting together content for the HighSpark blog, you'll find her sipping on a glass of Teh Beng(Milk Tea) or catching the latest Netflix original.

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