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Handling Questions & Answers Like a Real Pro!


by Claudia W. Brogan

When coaching public speakers who want to polish their skills, one subject comes up without fail: What can I do to get ready to handle questions after my presentation?

Even the most seasoned, well-prepared speakers fear that audience members will try to trip us up. Or that an audience member will stand up to deliver his or her very own monologue at the end, explaining how our content or delivery — or both — were just less than satisfactory. Or a nagging thought comes to a speaker, that, “There will be audience members who know much more than I do about this subject and will correct me and point out a long list of my errors.”

The truth is that we can do several things to prepare ourselves well for handling questions and answers at the end of our presentations. This exchange does not have to feel like a fearsome thing; re-framing the Q & A as a chance to give a clarifying note, discuss the topic further, or provide a few extra resources can serve to calm the speaker down.

Plan to use a few of these techniques to help the Q & A time feel more like a win/win situation:

  • If the speaking time allows for Q & A after your remarks, allot ten or more minutes to do so.
  • Always repeat a question after it has been raised. Three reasons why: 1) Doing so helps make sure you that have heard the asker clearly, 2) re-stating this question helps the asker know that you have correctly understood the point being asked, and 3) taking a moment to re-state gives the speaker a few precious seconds to focus and formulate a clear, pithy response.
  • Resist temptation to “give a whole follow-up speech” at the glimmer of an interesting question being posed. Limit your response to no more than 3 – 4 minutes so that other audience members have a chance to pose inquiries.
  • Phrase your invitation: “What questions do you have?” This is a warm and welcoming way to invite questions. Make sure that there are no chuckles or non-verbal responses on your part to signal that a question is too simple, or that the answer should be obvious. By setting a tone of sincere welcome, audience members will know that they are invited to learn more from you about the topic.
  • In instances where a question is posed and you are unfamiliar with the subject, do not feel a need to create a response that is beyond your knowledge. Demonstrate humility by responding that you do not know the answer. You may wish to open that question up in case other audience members might offer a short response. Or you might choose to say, “That is not an element of this topic that I can address today. I am interested now to learn more about that though, and if you’ll leave your card, I will get back to you about this.”
  • In the rare instance when a provocative remark might be raised by an audience member do your best to avoid being defensive. There is no need to feel like you have to defend your position or the presentation. Instead, allow the person who raises a challenging question to finish their thought, while being watchful not to let the question take a long amount of time. Rather than let this puzzling moment go beyond the allotted time, step in to offer your thanks for the remark and to respond to any specific elements in their remarks that you find noteworthy and useful. Invite the challenger to meet with you afterwards for further discussion if they’d like. With grace and poise, maintain your role as speaker and work to keep this challenge from derailing your main points and presentation.
  • Always remember that you as the speaker should have the last word of the question and answer period. Keep an eye on the time and close the session by the time agreed.

Allow yourself 2 – 4 minutes to give a carefully prepared summary before ending the session. Not only is it a good idea to restate your 3 – 4 main points, but also make sure to provide a key nugget, quote, or inspiration. Maintain your energy and calm to provide a strong, engaging finish. Give a call to action that reminds and inspires the audience what they can do in their own lives to use this information. Then close with strong words, like a brief encouraging poem or revisiting the primary theme of this gathering, this conference, this meeting. End with gusto, as a way to honor your audience members, your chosen message, and your role as the coach, teacher and messenger.

Learning to be comfortable with handling questions and answers can make a world of difference for speakers. Invite your friends to listen to a presentation of yours, or join a supportive, encouraging Toastmasters club, and practice handling questions at the end of your speech. In a helpful article, Rick Highsmith (who manages fearlesspresentations.com) urges us speakers to think of questions as our “friends.” He reminds us to listen with care to the questions that are raised, for they give us a good gauge of how our presentation is proceeding and whether our points have been clear.

An additional resource that illustrates ways for you to make it clear that you are done, and to signal your completion, are these valuable words from Brian Tracy.

And keep in mind the words of the Bard himself. Shakespeare said it best: “All’s well that ends well!”

Claudia Brogan is a speaker, trainer and facilitator who helps organizations by coaching presenters, leading collaborative meetings and problem-solving with groups and teams. Reach out to see how she can help you. Contact Claudia via email at claudiabrogan @ gmail.com, through LinkedIn or by phone at 404-849-5182.