It’s a common scenario: you have just finished that presentation that you’ve spent hours, days or even weeks preparing for, and you are really pleased with how it went. But now you are faced with a question-and-answer session. Although this may be daunting because it is harder to rehearse, it can be an incredibly useful experience and should be encouraged if time allows. It offers you the opportunity to further demonstrate your knowledge and expertise on a particular subject which could benefit your business, for example, by instilling confidence in potential investors and therefore encouraging their participation.
Q&As also offer a valuable chance for self-reflection. For instance, a section of the presentation you think is clear, may not be if you receive lots of questions about it. Perhaps it is time to look again at the content or your delivery of this topic, and either edit it if you are giving the same presentation again or be mindful of avoiding similar mistakes in your future presentations.
So now the importance of holding a Q&A is clear, how do you approach it?
Although it might not be possible to rehearse exactly what questions you might receive in the same way you can your presentation, it is still possible to prepare for your Q&A to an extent. Look through your presentation for any obvious gaps. Perhaps, for example, you have not included certain sales figures, or projections.
Any gaps in your presentation are where your questions are most likely to come from and identifying them allows you to ensure you know the relevant information you may need. You could also try practising your presentation to a trusted colleague who might think of questions on topics you hadn’t considered, increasing your awareness on the types of questions you may receive and allowing you to prepare for them.
On the day
A bottle of water is your best friend. Those first few seconds after being asked a question can be nerve-racking. You don’t want to start speaking before you’ve had chance to think about your response, nor do you want to be seen as hesitant and therefore nervous or uninformed on a subject.
By having a drink of water at hand and taking a sip before you answer a more difficult question, it gives you valuable thinking time without looking like you are hesitating. However, it is best to avoid having a sip of water before every answer as this might then appear to be a nervous habit.
Be mindful of your body language
No matter how many times you have presented, it is natural to feel nervous which can make us feel uncomfortable and more likely to fidget or use body language we would not normally. Try to avoid crossing your arms as this can appear defensive, and fidgeting, for example, with a button or hair tie can highlight your nerves. However, it is important to not look too stiff and rigid as this could also demonstrate discomfort.
A good way to stand is with your shoulders nice and relaxed (try to consciously push them down. When we feel nervous, we tend to raise them without realising) with a calm, open posture, a smile and a nod whilst talking can also indicate confidence. To really connect with the audience, it might be useful to employ something called convergence, where your speech and your behaviour becomes more like that of the person asking you a question as a way of making yourself more relatable to them. For example, you could try adopting a similar speed of speaking and perhaps using some of the same gestures or phrases that they do. You don’t have to change your natural style of speaking too much, in fact it’s best not to, but using a few similar phrases will help you connect to your audience, making them more receptive to your answers.
When delivering your answers, an awareness of a theory regarding four key components of effective conversation, known as Grice’s Maxims, could make your responses more effective and help you feel more confident. This consists of:
- Quantity – Your answer should detail enough information that the question has been addressed fully but should not be too long. Once you have given all the relevant information you need, stop. It is easy to think a long, in-depth answer is needed to show your expertise, but this is not the case, and you are more likely to ramble making you appear less confident or knowledgeable.
- Quality (truth) – Your answer should be true or if you are unsure, for example, if the question is about a future projection, it should be what you believe to be true. Whilst it can be tempting to exaggerate to try to impress, it can be easy for the audience to spot and embarrassing if you get caught out. Being honest, even under pressure will make you appear more trustworthy and ultimately benefit your business.
- Relation (relevance) – Your answer should be as relevant to the question as possible. This shows that you are actively listening to the question and have understood it. It is possible that in your presentation you might have missed out a piece of information that you wanted to include, and the temptation might be to try to include it in an answer that doesn’t really fit the question. However, this is more likely to make it appear as though you have misunderstood the question and undermines the audience’s confidence in you.
- Manner (clarity) – Deliver your answer in a clear way. Try to avoid ambiguity, obscurity or vague language. Remember if you need to take a second to think of the answer before you give it, that’s OK. A clear, well-articulated response will leave your audience with a greater understanding on the topic and confidence in your expertise. Don’t forget to consciously slow down your speech as we often speed up when we are nervous, which can make our answers less clear.
With practice your Q&A can become as strong and confident as your main presentation. If you are still feeling daunted, try to remember that the questions are not being asked to trick you, but because of a genuine interest and to learn from you. You are the expert, so have confidence in yourself and your answers.