A structured dialog between speaker and audience, intended to enable the speaker to know the audience better and to clarify or expand upon the speech. Q&A provides you with feedback indicating to what extent your listeners accept and understand your speech. It also lets you reinforce your message by addressing areas that concern the audience. And it benefits your listeners by giving them an opportunity to get clarification of material presented in your speech.

A Question-and-Answer Session allows the speaker to exercise both speaking- and leadership skills. Although you will anticipate certain questions by preparing for them in advance, you will inevitably receive the unexpected question. You exercise your listening skills while you receive the questions, impromptu speaking skills while you respond, and your leadership skills while you work to keep the Q&A session on track. The session can be a gratifying experience even for audience members who do not get to ask you a question—or it can be an aggravating and frustrating one for speaker and audience alike.

Tips for effectively dealing with audience questionsEdit

  • Plan for the Q&A—Announce at the outset of your speech that you will entertain questions. Plan a smooth transition between the conclusion of your proposal and the question-and-answer portion of the presentation.
  • Anticipate questions—Try to anticipate the questions your audience will ask. One way is to rehearse your proposal before colleagues or friends and see what questions they have. This has an added benefit: It can indicate elements you need to deal with better in the speech itself. You may even create graphics to support your prepared answers, and plan to use the Q&A as an opportunity for giving more content to the audience, if appropriate.
  • Clarify the question—Before attempting to answer a question, be sure you understand what the questioner wants. If necessary, rephrase it, asking if your interpretation is correct. Oftentimes, a speaker will be thrown off balance by a question, only because he has misunderstood the question.
  • Admit fallibility—When you don't know the answer to the question, admit it. Tell the questioner you will find out the answer later and provide it then (make a reminder when you do this).
  • Don't be defensive—When you give your listeners the impression you welcome their questions and appreciate the opportunity to answer them, your positive attitude can be the “icing on the cake” for a successful speech.
  • Align your answer with your main message—Rather than blurting out the first response that comes to mind, mentally evaluate how you can answer the question in a way that supports what you've said in your speech.
  • Disarm loaded questions—Occasionally a question may trip you up because it is based on faulty understanding, false premises, or irrelevant assumptions. Be polite, but don't back down from your position. You can disarm the questioner by asking him or her to explain the question and share information.
  • Divert irrelevant questions—Don't waste time on questions that are out of place, even if you know the answers. Politely ask the person how the question bears on the topic.
  • Divide complex questions—If a questioner hits you with a multifaceted question, split it into components before answering it. This helps you, as well as other listeners.
  • Summarize—Watch your allotted time. Before it expires, conclude by briefly recapitulating your message. This way, you can control (and prepare for) the way your presentation ends. This is the final impression you leave on your audience, so make it positive and upbeat.

Structuring the SessionEdit

For your Q&A to work well, you had best exercise leadership during the session.

  • Consider using question cards—Audience members receive a question card when arriving at the speech and submit their question in writing to the Toastmaster, who then selects among them or reorganizes them for use in the Q&A, where the Toastmaster herself will ask the questions.
  • Share—Ensure that each audience member has an equal likelihood to be selected to ask a question. Remember everyone who raises their hand; you may wish to allow the Toastmaster to select the audience members instead of trying to handle this task yourself.
  • Share more—An very vocal audience member may “jump in” with a question or interrupt the person who is asking a question. Practice phrases such as “I'd like to hear what the young lady is asking”, “I think there are people here who have not been heard yet”, and “I suggest you and I head out for a brew afterwards—where we can talk at length”.
  • Understand how to get the questioner to yield—Avoid an extended conversation with a single audience member. Practice stop phrases, such as “Thank you for your input”, “Let’s hear from the next person now”, or “I would like to discuss this further with you after the talk.”
  • Keep it a dialog—The Q&A is supposed to be a dialog between the speaker and individual audience members, but tends to turn into a three- or four-way conversation if the audience becomes aroused. Structure audience participation so that one audience member at a time asks a question, then listens to your response, then yields to the next audience member. This can be done by having an assistant pass a microphone to audience members or by having audience members stand in line at the microphone. In the more informal atmosphere of a Toastmasters meeting, a “talking stick” could pass from one questioner to another.
  • Know when to stop—Your speech venue will generally have time constraints, and the Q&A session itself may have a certain allotted time. Arrange with the Toastmaster to call for an end to the session when it has gone on long enough. She could say “We will take just one more question”, or cue the end of the session by stepping to the front, thanking the speaker, and leading the audience in applause.


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