Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 5, Issue 36;   September 7, 2005: Mastering Q and A

Mastering Q and A

by

The question-and-answer exchanges that occur during or after presentations rarely add much to the overall effort. But how you deal with questions can be a decisive factor in how your audience evaluates you and your message.

As everyone began filing out of the conference room, Allison switched off the projector, dragged her presentation icon into the recycle bin, and began collecting her notes. Geoff lingered in his chair for a bit, and then when everyone had gone, he stood and said, simply, "Grand slam!"

A small workgroupAllison smiled brightly and sat down. "Yeah," she said. "it was!"

"And the best part," Geoff continued, "was how you handled Marketing's questions about the slip."

As Geoff's comments illustrate, how you handle questions — especially hostile questions — can be more important than the presentation. Here are some tips for handling Q&A.

Resist evaluating questions
An example of evaluation is starting your reply with, "That's a very good question." Evaluating the question or the questioner can come across as arrogance. Most of the time, people who do this are just stalling for time. If you need time, just look directly at the questioner and say, "Hmmm," while you nod slowly.
Stay out of the rabbit hole
Evaluating a question
or a questioner
can seem arrogant
Some questions are so detailed, off track, or argumentative that almost any genuine response is de-focusing. Better: make a brief comment and then suggest that you'll be willing to talk further off line.
Let the questioner ask the question
Don't interrupt to complete a questioner's question. Wait for the question, restate it, and then answer it.
Make sure you understand
If you don't understand, ask for an explanation. If you still don't get it, apologize, and offer to take it off line.
Withhold derision
Some questions seem ridiculous. Some actually are. Displaying derision is both rude and risky. It can alienate the questioner and others in the audience.
Stay in bounds
Know clearly where the boundaries of confidentiality and your expertise are. If asked to step over a boundary, apologize and say, "I really can't say." Most people will understand.
Don't joke about serious matters
Making jokes about things people take seriously could hurt or arouse the ire of some members of the audience. Be careful, especially about technical religion, technical dogma, and technical politics.
Know how to handle spacing out
You might lose the thread. It happens. When it does, ask the questioner to repeat the question, and this time, listen. Also, consider this a sign of fatigue, and consider halting the Q&A or taking a break.
Be right
Since one of your goals is credibility, being wrong is not good. Say only what you know, and nothing more. If you have doubts about what you're about to say, tell the audience about your doubts, or don't say it.

Most important, for the really tense presentations, practice. Have some colleagues ask you tough questions, and work out some good answers. Sometimes, a well-prepared response can be more effective in Q&A than making the same point during prepared remarks. Any questions? Go to top Top  Next issue: FedEx, Flocks, and Frames of Reference  Next Issue

Terrific Technical Presentations!Are your presentations — technical or otherwise — all they could be? Audiences at technical presentations, more than most, are at risk of death by dullness. Spare your audiences! Captivate them. Learn how to create and deliver technical presentations with elegance, power and impact. Read Terrific Technical Presentations, a stand-alone Web site filled with tips and techniques for creating powerful performances. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenOBpXXIKCAqSJCdlhner@ChacANRhmZFvnOFtsoAvoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Effective Communication at Work:

A happy dogWhy Dogs Wag Their Tails
If you've ever known a particular dog at all well, you've probably been amazed at how easy it is to guess a dog's mood, even though dogs can't speak. Perhaps what's more amazing is that it's so difficult to guess a person's mood, even though humans can speak.
Patterns of ConversationPatterns of Everyday Conversation
Many conversations follow identifiable patterns. Recognizing those patterns, and preparing yourself to deal with them, can keep you out of trouble and make you more effective and influential.
Which came first — the chicken or the egg?Dealing with Condescension
Condescending remarks hurt. When we feel that pain, we often feel the urge to retaliate, even when retaliation might not be appropriate. Our responses are more effective when we understand where condescending remarks come from.
USS Lexington, an early aircraft carrierTroublesome Terminology
The terms we use at work to talk about practices, policies, and procedures are serviceable, for the most part. But some of them carry connotations and hidden messages that undermine our larger purposes.
Two barnacles affixed to the shell of a green musselGetting Into the Conversation
In well-facilitated meetings, facilitators work hard to ensure that all participants have opportunities to contribute. The story is rather different for many meetings, where getting into the conversation can be challenging for some.

See also Effective Communication at Work and Effective Meetings for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

September 11, 2001 attacks in New York CityComing August 23: Look Where You Aren't Looking
Being blindsided by an adverse event could indicate the event's sudden, unexpected development. It can also indicate a failure to anticipate what could have been reasonably anticipated. How can we improve our ability to prepare for adverse events? Available here and by RSS on August 23.
"The Thinker," by Auguste RodinAnd on August 30: They Just Don't Understand
When we cannot resolve an issue in open debate, we sometimes try to explain the obstinacy of others. The explanations we favor can tell us more about ourselves than they do about others. Available here and by RSS on August 30.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenDcnYCOCvAzGPSDiUner@ChacSQlBGudWLYjinevnoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here are some dates for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.