Michael Vivion, PhD, discusses two structures that help you form clear and emphatic responses during Q&A sessions.

No matter how well-delivered and supported your talk or presentation has been, once it's finished you may then be faced with the add-on that many speakers dread. It's the Q&A session, a time during which your listeners may ask you to elaborate upon your position, to explain more fully your evidence and data, to evaluate additional related points, or to address their confusions. Some audience members may defend your messages, offering additional backing in the form of data, experience, or other corroboration. Others may express an opposing viewpoint and ask that you comment on or consider its implications and issues.

In all respects, the Q&A continues your presentation. But it's also your last chance to obtain the audience's acceptance and agreement. To reach that goal, reinforce the messages that explain and support your position and purpose. While how you deliver your answers helps you emphasize your messages, so will the structure in which you couch them.


As often as possible—and especially when a question provides you with an opportunity to reinforce a major message—begin your answer with an Umbrella Statement. Such a statement expresses the crux of a message or point and may take the form of a conclusion, interpretation, hypothesis, claim, or thesis:

  • The design of the O-ring has minor flaws.
  • We found bleeding to be the most rare adverse event among study participants.
  • Under no circumstances should a child ever be left unattended in a motor vehicle.

An Umbrella Statement may also provide important context or essential definitions:

  • Drugs are rarely approved with a one-study program. ARCH was a one-study program but had such high enrollment and good results that the panel unanimously approved it.
  • Five top designers collaborated to produce our 2018 line.
  • We defined "success" as a 3 percent increase in revenue over that achieved in the previous quarter.

Follow the Umbrella Statement with support. End your response by rephrasing the Umbrella Statement.


Often it's possible to tell what the questioner wants by cues embedded in the wording of the question itself. Stay attuned to those cues and use them to formulate not only an Umbrella Statement but the support you provide for it. They suggest the direction that will be most likely to satisfy the questioner:

  • If the question includes a variation of the word "think," the questioner is asking for an interpretation.
  • If the question moves toward "why," the questioner is looking for a rationale.
  • If the question contains a version of "see," its answer will be data-heavy.
  • If the question involves a version of "how," the questioner is asking about methodology.

Consider the Umbrella Statement a final reinforcement of your message, your position, your perspective. Regard the word cues contained in phrasing as ways to approach the support with which you follow up. Taken together, these structures will help you use the Q&A to your messages' best advantage.

Structures for Responding during Q&A