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?

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