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

Last updated: August 8, 2018

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? rbrenuQKLUMsVubCpqOpqner@ChacCCvpZbzKGsgliMGNoCanyon.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 headline about the War of the Worlds BroadcastDeliver the Headline First
When we deliver news at work — status, events, personnel changes, whatever — we sometimes frame it in a story line format. We start at the beginning and we gradually work up to the point. That might be the right way to deliver good news, but for everything else, especially bad news, deliver the headline first, and then offer the details.
An appealing plate of pasta (not what I ate that evening)If Only I Had Known: II
Ever had one of those forehead-slapping moments when someone explained something, or you suddenly realized something? They usually involve some idea or insight that would have saved you much pain, trouble, and heartache, if only you had known.
William Tecumseh Sherman as a major general in May 1865On Badly Written Email
Even those who aren't great writers do occasionally write clearly, just by chance. But there are some who consistently produce unintelligible email messages. Why does this happen?
A 155 mm artillery shell is visible as it exits the barrel of an M-198 howitzer during trainingWhen the Answer Isn't the Point: II
Sometimes, when we ask questions, we're more interested in eliciting behavior from the person questioned, rather than answers. Here's Part II of a set of techniques questioners use when the answer to the question wasn't the point of asking.
A voltmeter with a needleHigh Falutin' Goofy Talk: II
Speech and writing at work are sometimes little more than high falutin' goofy talk, filled with puff phrases of unknown meaning and pretentious, tired images. Here's Part II of a collection of phrases and images to avoid.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A meeting held in a long conference room.Coming July 8: Multi-Expert Consensus
Some working groups consist of experts from many fields. When they must reach a decision by consensus, members have several options. Defining those options in advance can help the group reach a decision with all its relationships intact. Available here and by RSS on July 8.
A dictionaryAnd on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenuQKLUMsVubCpqOpqner@ChacCCvpZbzKGsgliMGNoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, 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 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.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. 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 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.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
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.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.