By Peter Jeff
The Leadership Mints Guy
Here is the second of two posts on the design of a Q&A session. Reading time: 7:23.
Think of yourself as a boxer the next time you conduct a Q&A session after a speech.
You bob and weave, protecting yourself with one hand and powering yourself with the other. You look for key openings to land your ideas with impact, insight and intensity.
Like a boxer whose preparation begins long before stepping into the ring, a Speaker Leader’s preparation for his or her Q&A begins long before they step up to the lecturn.
In fact, their Q&A research and preparation forms the backbone of the Speaker Leader’s speech in much the same way a boxer’s roadwork and sparing sessions informs the strategic intent of his planned boxing match.
And the Speaker Leader’s preparation– much like the proficient boxer –anticipates the strengths and leverages the weakness of his or her opponent.
So too the prescient Speaker Leader senses what the audience’s knows and needs to know; what the audience needs to –and wants to –hear and most importantly what the audience is afraid of hearing.
No wonder with all that focus on preparation, the most effective Speaker Leaders anticipate and develop extensive FAQs –Frequently Asked Questions–and well-researched answers well in advance, sound answers in more ways that one written for the ear.
Effective Speaker Leaders first write and develop those need/want to-know expected questions and answers long before developing their own more specific, on-topic, and in-depth Q&A that will spawn the first drafts of their speech. Again the tail (the Q&A) wags the dog (the speech). Answering an audience’s tacit questions is the foundation for every speech and answering an audience’s explicit questions is the essence of a Q&A session.
That’s why the most effective Speaker Leaders first list the Frequently Asked Questions – the FAQ’s— that their audiences will want answers to. Then the Speaker Leaders develop in advance at least five other adversarial Killer Questions with venom-eradicating answers.
Killing the Elephant in the Room
Sometimes one of the Killer Questions shapes the opening of your speech. The Killer Question – the elephant in the room—is on the audience’s mind before you say your first word. The most effective Speaker Leader’s kill the elephant in the room from the start like this: Many of you are wondering what can this guy tell me that I don’t already know about XX. Well….”
Here are 10 other tips and techniques you can use to conduct an effective Q&A session following your next speech:
Within the first two minutes of the speech, the Speaker Leader pre-sells their intention to take questions at the end of the speech: “I’m so excited about this subject that I know you are going have questions to learn more about it. Hold your questions to the end and I will be sure to leave enough time for all of your questions.”
2. ASK THE FIRST QUESTION YOURSELF
To launch an effective Q&A session, the Speaker Leader either plants a question or two in the audience before hand or asks themselves the first question themselves. The savvy Speaker could say: “One question that most people ask about this is……” Yet, too many ill-prepared speakers try to open a Q&A session with a buzz-killing open-ended question “Any questions?” Better to ask a leading question like this: “Okay we’ve talked about X and Y and Z and I know you have questions regarding ……Who has the first question? “
3. REPHRASE THE LOADED QUESTION
Is it oversight or greed that your company failed to fix the brakes? You rephrase: “You’re asking about the significance of our investing in safety programs over the years and I can tell you our company spends X times more than the industry average.”
4. REJECT THE ACCUSATORY QUESTION
Isn’t it true that bartenders do about the same thing you psychologists do – listen to other people’s problems for almost 10 times more pay? How can you justify your high fees?
You say: Listening is a very important part of psychology. The interpretation and analysis of human behavior through listening is the value of the psychologist. I have 15 years experience observing behavior patterns through listening. Patients deserve that kind of experience and expertise that only a professional psychologist can provide. (Never repeat the negative. Don’t pull a Nixonian: “I’m not a crook.”)
5. RE-DIRECT THE OFF-TOPIC QUESTION
“I appreciate your interest in X. Right now we’re focusing on Y issue. I’m happy to address that with you one on one after this program.” What happens if you don’t know the answer to a question? Don’t lie. Admit you don’t know and commit to getting the information to the questioner after the meeting “just give your contact information to me after this presentation.”
6. RESTRICT THE HECKLER
Muhammad Ali on a speaking tour when he was heckled for being a draft dodger at the university of Syracuse.
He responded with a story that his grandmother always told about never having to throw stones at a donkey because the donkey might come back to haunt you.
Ali, paused and then smiled, looking directly at the heckler and said: “Ladies and Gentlemen, I know now that my grandmother was right because I believe that ass is here tonight.”
7. REPEAT THE QUESTION
Give yourself a few seconds to think about your answer while you are helping more of the audience understand the question. You can also embed the question in your answer and accomplish the same two objectives.
8. PREEMPT THE COMMENT
Wait until the commenter takes a breath and say: “Thanks for your comment. In the interest of time we can only entertain questions. What’s your question? (If commenter pauses here, you move on. Say “Next question?”
9. RESIST THE GRATIS PRAISE
Don’t say “good question.” Don’t thank the questioner for the question. That implies you will answer only the “good” questions or worse yet all your questions are “good” and therefore no one is especially significant. And woe to you if you should not say “good question” to one questioner after saying it to every other questioner. It’s hollow. Work to make everyone feel equally comfortable about asking questions.
10. RESET YOUR GRAND FINALE
Control the ending of your Q&A session and Set Up your concluding remarks- one key thought or short story that captures the essence of your message and puts the proverbial cherry on the ice-cream-sundae of a speech you just delivered. Say “Before I share a concluding thought, I can take one more question. Answer that question then immediately begin placing the proverbial cherry on your ice cream sundae.
Practice those 10 ways to make your Q&A the crowning touch of your speech. And top it off with a juicy cherry of a story, insight or comment that captures the essence of your message. Without any pits or pitfalls.
Prepare a Q&A to keep your leadership thinking in mint condition.
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