A Q&A Clinic for Speakers
“Questions open a space in your mind that allow better answers to breathe.” ― Richie Norton
Mark Twain once said, “There are two types of speakers: Those who get nervous and those who are liars.” One of the places speakers get nervous more often than not is the audience question and answer period.
This week the newsletter gives you three ways to handle the question and answer (Q&A) period.
The world’s speakers were treated to a Q&A clinic this week at the hearing on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett.
There will be no politics in this newsletter; just lessons in how to answer questions from your audience.
You don’t have to agree with the views of Judge Barrrett. However, I think most people of any political persuasion would say she excelled in three very important areas when questioned by the Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate: question clarification, thorough preparation, and poise.
During her hearing, Judge Amy Coney Barrett asked for clarification of the questions she was being asked several times. Why is it important to ask for clarifications of the questions asked by your audience.
First of all, people in your audience may phrase questions in various ways that may be misinterpreted by you. Telling your questioner what you think they asked, asking them to rephrase the question, or asking them to ask the same question again gives you the opportunity to correctly interpret the question.
The added benefit of asking for clarification of a question is to give you more time to formulate a cogent answer to the question. Hopefully, you have heard the question before and have an answer ready.
Asking for clarification of an audience question has great benefits for you as a speaker. Being “the smartest person in the room” on the subject of the question through thorough preparation is another way to articulate a persuasive answer to a question from your audience.
How do you thoroughly prepare for a question that has not yet been asked?
It helps to have thorough knowledge in the audience question area. It also helps to have taught the subject. It has been said if you want to learn a subject, teach it. Judge Barrett spent many years teaching law at the University of Notre Dame. She was literally, “the smartest person in the room” when it came to the law. Because of this, she had an extensive “quiver of arrows” from which to choose her response.
Sometimes, however, you may be presenting on a subject in which you do not have a depth of knowledge. In this case, how should you prepare for audience questions?
In this circumstance, you can prepare to answer a question from your audience by practice answering the same question before you get to your presentation. So how can you be sure the questions you are asked in practice will be the same ones you are asked in the actual Q&A period?
The best way is to assemble a group of trusted colleagues/friends who are knowledgeable on your subject, deliver your presentation to them, and then have them ask you all possible questions at the session. This does not guarantee you will be familiar with absolutely every question your audience may ask, but the odds that you will be go up tremendously.
Asking for clarification of an audience question and thorough question preparation are key to articulating a persuasive answer in the Q&A period.
The last lesson from Judge Barrett’s hearing is the sterling example of poise she exhibited.
You may be saying to yourself people are born with poise. You either have it or you don’t. Not true! All the different parts of speaking I have explained in these newsletters can be learned. Poise is no different.
You have the wonderful freedom as a human being to change yourself if you are not satisfied with the current product. You consciously or sometimes unconsciously evaluate the return on investment for the change you are contemplating.
Let me assure you. Having poise during an audience question and answer has a huge return on investment.
Some of you may have seen parts of Judge Barrett’s hearing. There were some very pointed questions she was asked. Some you may even think were inappropriate. No matter the question, she answered them with great poise and by so doing earned the admiration of both sides of the political spectrum.
One of the best ways to develop poise during the Q&A period is to not answer a question the second it is posed. Simply wait five seconds, think about how you should answer this question, and then answer it. Answering a pointed question with a pointed answer never works. It just escalates the situation. Don’t respond in kind to a pointed answer. Err on the side of poise. You and the audience will feel better if you do.
Show poise in your presentation and the audience Q&A period and you too will earn the admiration of your audience and the people they talk to about your presentation.
To recap, the three lessons for you as a speaker during the audience Q&A period are: (1) ask for question clarification, (2) thoroughly prepare for questions by being asked the question beforehand and practicing your answer several times, and (3) remain poised during the question and answer period by delaying your answer, thinking about how you will respond, and only then answer the question.
Take action on these three lessons on how to handle the question and answer period during your presentations and reap the many benefits!
Call to Action
Ask for clarification of all questions to fully understand what is being sought by the questioner and to give you time to formulate a cogent answer
During your presentation preparation, take the time to be asked every possible question that your audience could ask
Practice remaining poised when you are asked controversial questions or questions probing your character
“You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.” – Bob Tiede, author of “103 Quotes Your Mentor Will Share with You, Sooner of Later.”
DiBartolomeo Consulting International’s (DCI) mission is to help technical professionals to inspire, motivate, and influence colleagues and other technical professionals through improving their presentation skills, communication, and personal presence.
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