Since 1977, over 10,000 Spokespersons Trained.

Handling Tough Q&A Sessions

Question and answer sessions are a critical part of the typical speech.Audiences display a keen appetite for these spontaneous exchanges.

Speakers are most vulnerable here. They either cinch up audience confidence and support of their message or they "blow it." All too often the speaker's earlier failures manifest themselves here in the form of little detectable audience interest in anything other than leaving.

Hostile audiences, on the other hand, waste no time in launching a barrage of tough questions. In either case, having a plan and protocol in place will lead to more productive and satisfying Q&A sessions.

Try these five steps:

    1. Look and be alert both physically and mentally. Give physical signals that you are interested in the questioner (eye contact, posture, etc.). Remember: even when you are silent, you are still communicating.

    2. Do not interrupt the questioner. Let him/her run down and have their say. Psychologists call this technique "flooding." There may be occasions when it is necessary to interrupt, but be sensitive to audience rapport.

  2. CLARIFY: Make sure you understand the question.
    1. Ask for clarification: "What do you mean by ...?" Or perhaps "Could you be more specific?" Beware: do not give adversaries an opportunity to make a speech. Avoid one-on-one situations. Do not personalize the question. Break eye contact with the questioner and speak to the entire audience.

    2. Provide clarification yourself: "For the sake of those in the back of the room the question is ..." Repeat or restate. Do not repeat any language that you personally find offensive and would not normally use. Selectively eliminate emotionally charged words and phrases and do not repeat negative connotations. Begin defusing emotional bombs.

    3. Clarify to ... include everyone ... avoid one-on-one cross examination ... edit the question ... buy time to think.

       Remember: Attack the problem, not the person.

  3. ONE-LINER: Short, concise, direct answer.
    1. Deal with the emotional aspect first then the factual, but always in succinct answers that could stand alone. State the most important at the beginning.

    2. Speak within your audience's frame of reference. What they can understand and relate to quickly. No jargon or snow jobs.

    3. Answer only one question at a time. Take a second or two to frame your answer if you need it, rather than vocalizing while thinking about it. Avoid time-wasting phrases like, "That's a good question" or "I'm glad you asked that."

    4. Don't bluff if you don't know the answer. Simply say, "I don't know but I'll find out for you." Always tell the truth.

  4. SUPPORT: Expand on step 3 if it is to your benefit.
    1. Give pertinent, supporting information. Keep it short. If your audience wants to know more, they will ask.

    2. Speak in personal terms whenever possible. "We," "us," and "our" are better than "the company," "XYZ, Inc." etc. Phrase your response with the public in mind and remember your audience's frame of reference.

    3. When appropriate, score points by embellishing a key message from your speech. Don't go overboard with this opportunity but don't let opportunities slip away for lack of effort.

    1. Read the questioner's and audience reaction. Are they puzzled, hostile, satisfied? Do they want a little more information?

    2. Perhaps return to the questioner and ask, "Does that answer your question?" Beware: do not give the floor to your adversary. Break eye contact and field another question.

    3. There is no substitute for knowledge. Know your subject cold.

Note: Save a few minutes at the end of your question-and-answer session to summarize major points. The last question may be completely unrelated to your message. Leave the audience thinking about your key thoughts.

All rights reserved. None of the above may be reproduced in
any form without written permission from K. W. Huskey Associates

For more information on Q&A sessions,
see Spokesperson: A Public Appearnace Primer