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The art of great meetings: how to overcome Q&A jitters

Do you remember the last time you delivered a great meeting presentation – nods of agreement, laughter at the right points, no one yawned – only to fumble during the question and answer session?

I’m sure we’ve all been there before. It is nothing to be embarrassed about. After all, it is a presenter’s greatest fear – fear of not knowing the answer and of losing control of the situation.

With a good strategy and lots of practise however, you can stay confident and in control. Here’s how:

1. Preparation is key

Always be prepared from the outset, even if you’re not sure if there will even be a formal Q&A session. You never know when ‘impromptu’ questions might arise. So what do you need to do?

Start by anticipating and making a list of questions that are likely to be prompted by your presentation. This includes negative questions that aim to dig holes in your position or your message. Once you’ve done this, prepare a response for each and make it as part of your rehearsal.

2. Restate each question clearly

You’ve completed your presentation, it went well and now you open the floor to a Q&A session. What should you do when the questions start coming?

Avoid giving the wrong answer or facts: make sure you listen closely and stop yourself from interrupting.

Pause before answering and keep your focus on the questioner. This is a great trick to ensure that everyone present (including you), has heard the question properly, and it gives you an extra few moments to compose your thoughts.

3. What if there is a domineering questioner in the room?

If someone starts to dominate the Q&A session, you might want to:

§  Respond to the first question or comment politely.

§  Use a tactic such as, “we’ve heard from this side of the room” and then, walk over to the side from which you have not had a question.

§  Keep the session moving and try to answer a question from a different person each time, in order to avoid any one person monopolising the discussion and to give the audience more opportunities for input.

4. Handling hostile questions

Hostile questions pose a particular challenge, and they can come in a variety of formats. How do you stay in control?

Remain calm. Take a moment to think through your response, stick to the facts and answer the question carefully.  It is perfectly acceptable for you to disagree on a point that’s been made, but make sure you are not criticising the questioner or the question that’s been asked.

[Next: What do I do when there is an awkward silence?]

5. Awkward silence

What if there are no questions from the floor? Here are some useful tricks:

§  Ask the audience what they think about your presentation. Do they agree with you? Do they have other opinions?

§  Plant a colleague or a friend in the audience. Make sure you choose people who are trustworthy and will ask questions that will spark the process.

§  Some people may prefer to ask questions on a 1:1 basis, rather than in the presence of an entire room. Offer to take questions in private too at the end of your presentation to facilitate them.

6. Don’t be a know-it-all

You can craft a great presentation and deliver it brilliantly. But if you fumble when responding to questions, you will risk sinking your credibility and the success of the presentation. Here are some useful tips:

  • If you don’t know the answer, let the questioner know that you don’t have the information to answer right at the moment but offer to revert back at a later time.
  • Do not speak outside of your area of expertise. Remember, you are not expected to know everything.
  • Ensure your tone and body language is open: arms uncrossed and speak with an even tone.
  • Turn the tables: ask if anyone in the audience has had experience and would like to share their insights if the Q&A turns to an aspect of the topic that you are unfamiliar with.

Remember, you don’t have to feel vulnerable and nervous when the time for Q&A arises. With some careful planning and preparation, you can greatly reduce the nervousness of Q&A sessions while making it as valuable and interesting for your audience as possible.

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Joanne Rigby is the Asia Pacific Marketing Director at PGi. She is responsible for driving PGi’s marketing strategies across its full communications offering throughout the Asia Pacific region.

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Joanne Rigby

Joanne Rigby

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