Your speech is polished and your delivery is perfect. The audience laughed in all the right places, and even shed a tear. You're ready to pat yourself on the back for a job well done, but wait. . . There's still the Q&A.
Audience members are speaking up, but no one can hear them. Someone asks a question that's completely off-topic and you get flustered trying to think of an answer. The event organizer calls time, the presentation is over, and suddenly you don't feel so great about it after all.
How can you use the question and answer period to your advantage, to further enhance your message and end your presentation with a wallop instead of a whimper? Read on for tips on keeping your message on the mark, even when the presentation has run its course.
Pointer 1: If you don't know the answer, say so
Many of us are embarrassed to admit we don't know something, especially when we are supposed to be the expert on stage. However, pretending to know the answer to a question is not the solution.
You can always assume that there are one or two people in the audience, maybe more, who have a good understanding of your topic. Those people might actually know the answer to the question that you're inventing a response for. Pretending to know the answer only damages your credibility and makes people wonder if anything you said was accurate.
Don't take the chance. First, anticipate questions that the audience will ask. Prepare in advance for the most obvious questions, but also be prepared for any challenges or confrontational questions.
If you still get a question to which you don't know the answer, just 'fess up. Say, "I'm not sure how to answer that. I'd like to look into it and get back to you later."
This is also a great way to invite audience input. If you don't know the answer, ask your audience! There are bound to be a couple of people who can answer, and allowing your audience members to share their knowledge benefits the whole group.
If there is no one in the room who can answer the question, ask for the person's business card so you can follow up with them as soon as possible. And don't forget to do so.
Pointer 2: Always repeat back questions
Sometimes you're speaking in a large room, with the use of a microphone, but audience members are not given microphones to ask their questions. You may hear their questions, but audience members sitting behind them likely will not.
Repeat back every question that's asked, to be sure that everyone in the room hears it. This seems like an obvious point, but in reality, it doesn't feel natural to most people to repeat back questions, and it's often neglected.
If there are more than about 40 people in the room, you can be sure that they won't all hear the questions. For smaller audiences, use your judgment – you might want to ask the audience if they've heard the question before deciding whether to repeat it back.
Pointer 3: Don't end the presentation with Q&A
The best way to ensure that your audience leaves with your powerful closing ringing in their ears and your message seeping into their brains is to end the presentation after the Q&A.
Depending on how much time you're given for your presentation, and how many questions you anticipate, you might choose to insert the question and answer period as much as fifteen minutes or a half hour before the end of your talk.
Let your audience know that, after Q&A, you will be wrapping up your presentation with a few closing remarks. That way, they won't all get up and leave after the questions are over.
Now you have the ability to bring the focus back to your main points and tie up any loose ends, rather than ending on a possible off-topic question of your audience's choosing. You also have more control over the timing of your presentation, knowing exactly when to end Q&A in order to wrap up your talk concisely.
Make sure you let the event organizer know your plan. If this is the person who will be timing you and perhaps thanking you at the end of your speech and making further remarks to the audience, you don't want her thinking that you've finished early and that it's time to move on.
Planning out your question and answer period as carefully as the rest of your presentation will ensure that your audience walks away with exactly the message you intend for them – and this time you'll really earn that pat on the back.