Responders in a Q&A session have a lot to keep in mind. They must understand the question asked and its intent, frame a response that answers the question clearly and concisely, recall and provide support for the response, perhaps including slides. And, depending on the meeting format, they may be responsible for calling on questioners so must stay aware of time limits and who is waiting to speak. That's quite a bit to handle—but it's not all.

They must also project an image that shows them to be respectful, credible, and authoritative. Yet several phrases responders often use during Q&A chip away at these qualities. Learn the phrases and learn to do without them.


Don't say these phrases or similar ones in a response:

  • "As I mentioned earlier" or "As I said in my presentation" or "What you need to understand is"

  • These and phrases like them insult the questioner. They are tantamount to saying that the questioner wouldn't be asking if he or she had been paying attention, that he or she should know the answer already, or that the question itself is off-base or ignorant. Should a questioner ask something that's already been discussed, simply respond. And under no circumstances should your response slight the intellect of the questioner.

  • "Great question!" or "Excellent question!"

  • Such expressions waste response time but they also suggest that some questions—those that don't get a congratulatory phrase—are not very good at all, are somehow inferior. Ranking questions in this way may make the Q&A session more problematic. If you praise each question equally, you appear insincere or indiscriminate. If you differentially praise questions, you set up a competition (good – better – best) that may silence some would-be questioners—nobody wants to ask a less-than-fantastic question. Such a silencing typically leads to the suppression of simple questions whose answers nevertheless can clarify clouded issues.

Promoting the competitive spirits in the audience may induce its members to play an "I can ask a better and more challenging and insightful question than that" game, a reaction that can prove difficult. While there's no reason to dread a challenging question, at times the intent of one is to stump the responder. And when that's the intention, the question may become almost tangential, threatening to pull the responder off message.

All good reasons to accept questions as they come—without ranking them!


Avoid phrases such as these:

  • "I think"
  • "I feel"
  • "I believe"
  • "In all honesty"

Each of these constructions introduces doubt into a response when what is needed is a clear, strong, evidence-based statement that is then supported. Preceding that statement with any of the first three of these phrases weakens the response, moves it away from the realm of evidence.

"In all honesty" presents a different problem. It's almost a filler; it takes time from the response and adds no substance—unless it's a subtle suggestion that the speaker isn't always honest in her responses.

As you prepare for Q&A, do assemble a list of possible questions. Prepare and rehearse your answers. But prepare also to omit phrases that undercut your demonstration of authority and credibility and those that reduce the amount of respect your questioners perceive. You'll be a stronger responder for it.