I enjoy a challenge as much as you do, but this one was freaky.
A client and friend asked me if I could help her boss – the CEO of a large, global company – improve the “state of the business” speeches he presented once a year to hundreds of employees at each company location.
She said some employees were actually offended by the speech he gave last year, and she asked me to review the video to see if I could figure out why.
The first half of the presentation was typical: guy standing behind a podium, talking in a near monotone, delivering a poorly organized presentation, accompanied by atrocious PowerPoint slides. You know the routine.
Boring? Yes, excruciatingly so! But offensive? No way. Until I got to the Q&A.
I swear I’m not making this up
Honestly, I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve never even heard of anyone doing what this guy did. I wish I could show you the video, but, for obvious reasons, I can’t. You’ll just have to take my word.
He read and responded to about a dozen questions that were submitted in advance of the speech, in writing, by employees WHO WERE IN THE ROOM!
As he read each question, he either smirked, made a nasty comment about the question and/or questioner, or both. Some examples of his witty observations:
- “this is from a doom and gloom person, you know, the sky is always falling”
- “another doom person”
- “are you noticing a theme here?”
- “this is another doozy – it’s embarrassing”
- “this one’s from somebody who doesn’t want to be working for us”
The nicest thing he said about a question was, “this one isn’t written particularly well.”
Again, he did all this knowing full well that the people who asked the questions were in the room.
No mystery here
The guy’s problem is simple: he’s a jerk. Of course, I couldn’t tell him that – so I advised that he “will be received more positively by the audience if he refrains from sharing his personal opinions about the suitability of the questions or the attitudes of the people submitting them.”
That would be Rule #1 of how to appropriately handle Q&A: treat everyone in the audience with respect. Look at them when they ask a question, pay attention to what they’re asking, don’t interrupt them, thank them for their question, and answer it even if you think it’s stupid, irrelevant, or not very nice. Everyone who asks a question deserves an answer. Give them one.
Here are some other Q&A tips:
- Before your presentation, anticipate as many questions as you can and answer them in your presentation. It impresses most people – and disarms those who plan to ask tough questions just to put you on the spot.
- You can offer to answer questions at several points during your presentation – especially where you expect questions to arise – but you shouldn’t skip a final Q&A near the end.
- However, don’t make Q&A the very last part of your presentation – do it just before you deliver your strong close.
- If no hands go up at first, have one or two questions in mind to ask the audience to get things rolling.
- Clarify questions you don’t understand.
- If a question is based upon an incorrect premise, correct it before answering.
- Repeat or restate the question as the first part of your answer: “When are we rolling out the new product? Fall of …”
- Start your reply to the person who asked the question and then include the entire audience.
- Don’t say “good question.” If you do this for every question, it becomes obvious very quickly that you don’t mean it. If you don’t say it for every question, you insult some people.
- When a question is actually a comment, thank the person for their observation and move on to someone else’s question.
- When one person dominates with one question after another, say, “You obviously have a lot of questions about this. Let’s get together afterwards so we can give everyone else a chance to ask questions.” Then look for someone else with a hand up.
- Decline to speculate or address hypothetical situations, bridging to something relevant: “I can’t say why the residents think that, but I can say this…”
- Don’t be afraid to ask the audience to help answer an especially challenging question.
- Be concise and truthful. If you don’t know, say so, then offer to find out and provide the answer later.
- Link back to information in your presentation that relates to the question: “Remember when I talked about…”
- A question often highlights something the audience didn’t fully understand. If you can think of one, use an example to make it clearer.
- Stop before your scheduled stop time – but offer to stick around and answer more questions.
Far too many presenters treat Q&A as a throwaway – the obligatory last gasp of their presentation. Don’t be one of them. Treat questions as what they truly are: opportunities to really connect with the audience and leave them with exactly what they’re looking for: answers.