How to Master Q&A Sessions

by Michael Rickwood

Many of us are starting to approach presentations in the right way, taking the time to fix our objectives, analyze the audience, study the context, put together some coherent arguments, good visuals and even find the time to rehearse.

Just as we are now spending longer to prepare our presentations properly, in a world of ever-increasing social media and ever-dwindling attention spans, our presentations are getting shorter in order to be more effective. What this means is that the inevitable question and answer interaction that follows is now more important than ever, yet we still don’t spend enough time preparing the Q&A session.

In this short article I would like to share with you 3 steps to Mastering Q&A: The Groundwork, The Message and The Dance.

The Groundwork

At Ideas on Stage, when preparing presentations, we recommend that presenters begin with an ABC and analyze 3 things: the Audience, their Burning Needs and the Context of the presentation and its audience. This is a tried and tested approach to building solid foundations for the presentation and will also help you to produce the key messages and transformative objectives that you will also need to prepare your Q&A session. One thing that is necessary for your preparation is thorough research to feel confident in your answers. Prepare a list of the questions that are worrying you the most, and above all check the facts so you are thoroughly prepared. Your credibility on how well you cope with answering questions, so do the groundwork and lay solid foundations.

The Message

The definition of a message is a one-sentence statement that incorporates two things: one of your most important points and one of your audience’s most important issues or values. An example here would be ‘Ideas on Stage has a decade of experience helping entrepreneurs to find the right formula to raise capital in a very competitive environment’. Something thing that sells us, and something that matters to them.

For entrepreneurs and small companies, it is reasonably straightforward to be in control of messaging but if we are part of a large organization where we are not permitted to say anything we want, many contextual aspects need to be taken into consideration such as hierarchy. That is why we use something we call the Traffic Light Technique.  It’s a way to filter our messages between the ‘imperative messages’ (green), the ‘nice to have messages’ (amber/orange), and messages to avoid (red), as we take into consideration the structural hierarchy and risks that could undermine the organization as a whole.

The Dance

This part of the process focuses on the soft skills of Q&A. Like in presenting, where we focus on direct audience contact and pressure, Q&A too comes with stress and risk.

The most important thing to remember is that it is your show, you decide when the questions start, you decide when they end and you choose the questioner each time.

When choosing a questioner and giving them the floor, be mindful of some important things:

1.   First, listen actively, empty your cup of pre-emptive answers and listen to the questioner.

2.   Look for the meaning behind long and rambling questions by focusing on the cues in language such as the nouns and the verbs that they are using, all the while giving visual listening cues such as head nodding and showing engagement.

3.   Once you’re really sure of having understood the question, go ahead and answer. If there is still any doubt, you can paraphrase the question back to the questioner to seek their agreement to the question they’ve just asked.

4.   Whatever happens, always try to answer the question: avoiding answers doesn’t look good. You don’t want to be compared to a bad politician. Simply try to avoid any of the ‘red’ messages you identified, and aim to get across at least one of your ‘green’ messages in each answer. If you aren’t able to answer the question there and then, it’s best to admit it, and promise to get back to the questioner with an answer later. Nobody will want you to waste their time with a rambling statement that doesn’t answer the question.

Accountability and transparency are highly valued by most business leaders, so practice your Q&A before the session to ensure you satisfy your audience and remove any doubt about your presentation.

Q&A doesn’t have to be something that you don’t control. Take control and flourish as you finish the meeting as professionally as you started it.