Stay on the Q&A Offensive

Listening to the taped version of my speech at the University of Arizona this past week, I identified several moments during the Q&A where I could have done better.

Reading this quickie with communications guru Michael Sheehan in Harvard Business Review (free), I’m again reminded that I have spent far too much time focusing on “my” presentation and virtually no time prepping for Q&A.

This should be obvious — in Arizona I spoke for 25 minutes and we had 45 minutes of Q&A (ranging from peak oil to value of an MBA to spirituality). But even if the ratio was more talk, less Q&A, Sheehan says speakers should still focus on Q&A because of the audience’s heightened attention during this period.

Here’s what I’ve done well so far during Q&A time:

  • List possible questions to ask on a slide to make it easy to get the ball rolling
  • Presented open body language and a “no dumb questions” demeanor

Here’s what I’ve done poorly in my Q&A sessions so far:

  • Cut off questioners before they’ve finished
  • Haven’t repeated the question back to the audience in case others couldn’t hear
  • Not tied certain questions back to the larger theme of my talk
  • Been too verbose on simple questions

If you’re a speaker, are you thinking about how to cultivate a rich and open question-and-answer session which will allow you to reinforce the themes you raised in your speech?

2 comments on “Stay on the Q&A Offensive
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  • Q&A prep is one of the few areas where I recommend and conduct an old school “acronym” exercise with clients, the “SWOT” analysis. Your presentation already seek to achieve particular objectives with a well-understood audience (right?).

    Being on top of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities & threats will prepare you for most Q&A without trying to memorize answers, guess exactly what you will be asked, etc. Particular attention to knowing your opportunities well keeps your answers focused (not too long) and tied to your theme (which I encourage phrasing as an objective).

    By the way, loved the “which means that…” maxim, and passed it along to friends widely, thanks.

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