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Here’s a Question for You . . . <br> <i>When</i> is the Best Time to Answer Questions?

Time to Answer Questions: It’s Not the Last Thing to Do

First of all, you may not have a Question and Answer Session as part of your presentation.  It may not be necessary or appropriate.

Possibly, the answer to any questions the audience might have is to see you after the talk, or email you their questions.  This should come with the disclaimer that you will attempt to answer as many as is reasonably possible.

You may be delivering the type of talk that is continually interactive with the audience.  Often, workshops fall into this type of presentation.

Time management is extremely important in any presentation.  Taking and answering questions takes time management to a higher level.  There is usually a specific amount of material to be covered. Long questions and long answers can throw a wrench into adequately covering the scheduled material.  Questions and answers that go off subject are even worse because they waste time that can’t be recouped.

The key is know exactly what has to be covered and to break it into manageable segments.  Setting timers with bells that go off is not a bad idea.  They can be used to start and mark the end of Q&A Sessions, specific segments of the workshop, break periods, and starting periods.

It’s a way of putting the timing into the hands (clock hands?) of a third party.  It does take good planning and practice to do this correctly.

Everyone has attend workshops where twenty-five percent or more of the material didn’t get covered adequately because of poor time management by the presenter.

One interesting way to handle questions is to have people write them down and hand them to you before going on break.  This gives the presenter the opportunity to pick and choose the ones he wants to answer, and the ones inappropriate or too time consuming to be addressed.  Questions not answered at the presentation can be answered by email or, the question and answer can be posted on your web site.  This last idea is a great way of furthering the value you give.

The place in your talk that you don’t want to have a Question and Answer Session is at the end or after the your closing.  That is absolutely the worse time to answer questions. Remember the Law of Primacy and Recency?  If Q&A is the last thing done before the audience leaves, it will be one of the first things they remember.  You don’t have the control over Q&A that you have in the rest of your talk.   Questions that are negative to your presentation, not easy to answer, or literally question something you presented, are not things you want uppermost in people’s minds as they head through the exits.

The place to have questions asked is before the conclusion of your talk.  The verbiage goes like this: “Before I conclude my talk I’ll take a few questions.”

Additionally, you may let your audience know about this is in the Opening of your talk.  This is where you tell the audience  ‘What you’re going to tell them’.  Before getting into the Body of your speech, you say, “Before concluding my talk, there will be some time for questions. You may find them covered before that time. If not, please hold them until we set aside time to answer them.”

If there are more questions then time, you can use one of the above suggestions and talk to people after the speech or accept emailed questions.

If you ask for questions and don’t immediately get hands raised, you might have to ‘prime the pump’.  A way to get things rolling is to say, “Typically, one of the questions I’m often asked is, _______”

If you don’t know the answer to a question there are several things you can do.

  1. Tell them you’ll get back to them.

  2. Tell them to please see you after the presentation. You can then talk to them privately about the matter.

  3. Be honest. If you don’t know the answer, tell them you don’t. A softer way to answer, from your perspective, is to say, “I’m drawing a blank on that right now. When this brain cramp goes away I’ll get back to you.”

  4. Don’t give an answer that you know is incorrect. Someone in the audience will know it’s wrong and you lose credibility quickly.

Anticipate specific questions.

  1. This is important because you can be ready with answers.

  2. You’ll do a better job of giving the correct answer, and give it more succinctly, if you’ve anticipated the questions you’re likely to be asked and the appropriate answers.

A Q&A Period, and answers to those question can be included in your presentation.  But, like the other parts of a good presentation, they should be prepared and planned for.

About the Author: Fred E. Miller coaches, speaks and writes about Public Speaking and Presentation Skills. 314-517-8772


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