Some of the best speakers use audience interaction, including carving out time for questions and answers, to make their presentations more engaging, more meaningful and more memorable. There are various ways to incorporate Q&A sessions into your next presentation, and we’ve shared these ideas in a previous post.

But how can speakers effectively connect with the audience through Q&A, make the best use of this time, and reinforce their messages? It takes preparation before, during and after the Q&A. Try the following tips that we’ve developed through our experience presenting and providing coaching to other leaders:

Before the Q&A

  • Plan for it. Save time for a Q&A when you’re planning your presentation within the allotted timeframe. Cut material, if needed, to budget for questions.
  • Anticipate questions. Based on your understanding of the audience, try to determine questions they may ask, e.g. “What are the three questions that my listeners would most likely ask me about this topic or issue?” Think through and practice your answers.

During the presentation

  • Announce when you’ll be handling any questions. Don’t leave your audience wondering when or if there will be a Q&A. Tell them at the beginning so that they’re reassured that they will have the chance to ask questions and to get them thinking about what they want to ask. Depending on your material or the audience, you may want to ask clarifying questions during the presentation: “Does anyone have any questions about ‘X’?” or “If anyone has any questions or other ideas about ‘X,’ please be sure to share during the Q&A.”
  • Look and listen. Make eye contact with the person asking the question and listen to their entire question before starting your response. This shows you respect their time and question.
  • Restate the question. This serves two purposes: First, it ensures everyone in the audience heard the question; second, it gives you a few seconds to process the question before you answer it.
  • Show appreciation. It takes courage to ask a question. Make it a safe environment for people to ask questions by responding positively with appreciation – even if you had already covered the answer (e.g., “Thanks for your question …”; “I’m glad you asked …”).
  • Be clear, concise and credible. Give succinct answers – stay on message and avoid tangents. This also allows more time for people to ask questions. If you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s okay to acknowledge. You can bridge back to what you do know that would be helpful or pertinent to the question or topic. You can commit to getting back to them with an answer (if possible) by sharing a specific timeframe and ensuring you have their name/contact information. You can also consider opening up the question to others in the audience.
  • Manage the process. As the presenter, you’re also the guide for the Q&A session. If questions get off topic or will take too long to answer in the allotted time, acknowledge the question and offer to discuss it offline. If someone is dominating the Q&A, determine what might be taken offline and then give other audience members a chance to ask their questions.

After the Q&A

  • Don’t end on the Q&A. After taking your final question and offering the answer, share or re-iterate your parting thoughts (e.g., “Thank you for your time and questions. In summary, it’s important to remember …” or “I encourage you to do ‘X’….”). This will reinforce your messages and let you have the final say, especially if the last question was off-topic, neutral or negative. You could consider saving your last slide for this purpose.
  • Make yourself available. If appropriate, stick around after the presentation or on a break to invite any further dialogue or questions. Provide your contact information. If it’s an employee presentation, affirm your open-door approach.