You've given a great presentation—on message, well-supported, delivered with power and grace. Members of your audience seem to be with you, just about convinced that they should follow the course of action you've recommended. All that stands between you and your goal of full acceptance are a few questions. You have entered the Risk Zone.
Often, the Question & Answer segment is as important or even more so than the presentation itself. Both have the objective of persuading your audience to accept and act upon your messages. But the nature of Q&A is that almost any message is at risk of audience rejection; many questions will concern the most complex or controversial parts of your message, those that are most vulnerable to doubt. Even an informal round of questions may carry this risk. Thus a Q&A offers you an opportunity to ensure that your messages have hit the mark, to redirect any that seem slightly off, and to reinforce the credibility with which you have delivered them.
Two underlying strategies will help you use the Q&A to strengthen your messages and achieve your goal: Mitigating Risk and Maintaining Control. You can prepare for and practice both. This issue of Speak Previews® addresses risk mitigation—how you can use the Q&A to reduce the risk of message rejection.
The first step you can take to mitigate risk is to understand listeners' concerns. Which parts of your message are they likely to question? Safety? Financials? An interpretation of data? As you prepare, anticipate those concerns and identify the aspects that could lead to disagreement or doubt. List them. Address these issues by forming specific responses that decrease doubt. In those responses, address the targeted aspect but stay on message.
But your communication strategy should begin long before you stand up to speak. Anxiety may grow from a lack of confidence. To build comfort and control, plan what you will say. Early on, analyze your audience, determining the characteristics that will affect its understanding and acceptance of your message. Shape and prioritize your messages; locate supporting evidence. Decide which visuals will strengthen your presentation and get them ready.
Organize supporting materials and be prepared to use them; demonstrating your mastery of rationale and its support builds audience confidence in your answer. Then practice your responses as thoroughly as you practice the presentation itself. Internalize possible questions and answers just as you've internalized the content of your presentation.
The third step you can take to mitigate the risk of message rejection occurs during the Q&A itself. You gain audience acceptance of your messages not only through the content of your answer but through your delivery. Use eye focus and body language to help you deliver your responses with a confidence that emphasizes your credibility.
Pause for a few seconds after a question is asked; use that pause to ready your answer. While maintaining eye focus with the questioner, you can elongate the pause for a few seconds or more. Silence momentarily puts pressure on the questioner and may spur him or her to elaborate upon or clarify the question, buying time for you to think at the questioner's expense. Make sure your body language remains neutral both while fielding questions and during the pause.
Hold that focus as you begin your response for about the time it takes you to utter a phrase, wait another moment, and then shift your eye focus to another person, and then others. As you respond, your body language should express the same enthusiasm and credibility you used in your presentation. The non-verbal message you want to send to your audience is openness, and your stance will help your listeners see that you have confidence in your message and are comfortable with their questioning of it.
Move as you speak and gesture when appropriate. Keep both steady and purposeful. You do not want to pace quickly back and forth but instead to take a few steps, stop, and speak. Try to time each movement to coincide with a change in content or emphasis.
Regard the Q&A as a chance to remove any doubt that your messages are thoughtful and well-considered. Anticipate possible questions, prepare your responses, and demonstrate your credibility. Q&A is not the end of a presentation, but a new critical and interactive presentation that requires its own preparation.
Read more about maintaining control during Q&A here.