THERE are many of us who would rather be drawn and quartered rather than engage in public speaking. Generally, speaking in public causes anxiety, depending on your personality type, however. Perhaps the toughest part of making a presentation is responding to questions from the audience. Here are a few tips to help you handle the question and answer (Q&A) part of your presentation.
The Q&A section of a presentation, if it is so designed, is aimed at giving members of the audience an opportunity to ask questions of the speaker. It is aimed at broadening the scope of the conversation and inviting the audience to come in, feel comfortable and clarify some of the points that they might not have understood during the presentation. It helps the speaker by giving him extra time to communicate with his audience. However if this session comes at the end and is not handled properly, it can leave a bad impression on the speaker's presentation. The Q&A is important both for the audience as well as the speaker's perspective.
It is important that the speaker is properly prepared to answer any questions that might arise from the floor or alternatively. So have on hand knowledgeable persons who will be able to assist you answering with such questions and who will have access to statistics and other data that might become pertinent. Do not take along empty-headed 'window dressers' as part of your support team or you will be sorely embarrassed when you look to them for an answer. Better to go it alone and send back the answers to any questions you might not be able to answer there and then.
Preparation also involves making a note of the top ten questions that the members of your audience are likely to ask of your topic. Do not be afraid of asking random strangers their views of the subject, because no doubt your audience members may consist of a potpourri of these self-same strangers, some of whom might ask similar questions. In preparing the questions, it is also a good idea to prepare the responses to these questions. Try not to anticipate the exact wording of the questions that you might get during the Q&A because it might leave you nervous and sweaty palmed if the questions do not come as you might have prepared.
In responding to queries from your audience, it is advised that your answers be short and pointed and not be the opening of another chapter of the speech you just concluded. Try not to repeat the same words and phrases you used in your speech as the query might have emanated from someone who was unclear because of the language you used in your presentation. Try not to befuddle them even more.
One thing a public speaker does not always have control over is who will comprise the members of the audience. People to go events from different places with many agendas. You can bet you last dollar that there will always be that 'Smart Alec' who has made a pact with the devil to terrorise public speakers at any event. If that 'Smarty Pants' is Jamaican, woe betide you as one of his first act will be to try and hijack your presentation with one of his own finely crafted speech. Sometimes he or she will cunningly 'smuggle' loose leaves with jottings of his own complete presentation and will lay sneakily in wait and launch a stealth attack as soon as the Q&A section opens.
When asked to elaborate on his question, he will whip out said paper and launch into a full-fledge speech of his own. Schooled in the art of such stealth attacks, this 'Mr Smarty Pants' perhaps could teach one of the greatest fighting force on earth, the United States Army, a thing or two about this manoeuvre.
Although it is well nigh impossible to stop someone bent on giving an unsolicited speech, one way to try and prevent the 'sneaky audience presenter' from having the last word of the presentation is to not leave the Q&A session until the end. Prepare a brief re-cap of your presentation after the Q&A session so that the last voice your audience hears is yours, reinforcing the strongest parts of your presentation.
The more prepared you are on the subject matter on which you will expound, the better prepared you will be to answer questions from the audience. As with most things in life that are feared, nothing beats being properly prepared.
Yvonne Grinam-Nicholson, (MBA, ABC) is a Business Communications Consultant with RO Communications Jamaica, specialising in business communications and financial publications. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website at www.rocommunications.com and post your comments.