Live Q&A sessions give participants the chance to interact with you, a panel of speakers, and each other. These sessions can transform a presentation from a lecture into an interactive and valuable learning experience. Interactive sessions will keep your audience engaged, allow you a better opportunity to convey your information, and can help you to better understand your audience’s concerns and interests.
Preparation is key to conducting a well-developed, active, and engaging Q&A session. The steps involved in creating a great session – one that will achieve the outcome you want – involve design, practice, promotion, engagement, control, and follow-up.
It’s important to allocate at least 25% of your total presentation time to the Q&A session. People have short attention spans, so consider interspersing them throughout your presentation. When you end a mini Q&A session to continue with your talk, be sure to let your audience know that they will have the opportunity to ask questions again.
Decide how you will include your virtual audience. You may choose to have a moderator who will receive questions virtually and then present them to you. If there is no moderator, you will have to self-manage the session. The trick then is to always explain what you are doing. For example, if you need to read questions from a screen, say “Let me check questions from our virtual participants.”
One way to help completely convey your message is to keep some information in reserve specifically for use in the Q&A session. For example, you can have detailed slides created that are based on the overview slides used in the main presentation. You can use these more detailed slides to quickly and easily provide answers to questions.
It will be very helpful to make a list of potential questions prior to the event. Q&A sessions will often see the following types of questions:
- seeking information from an expert. As the speaker, you are perceived to be the expert on your topic;
- seeking additional clarification to fully understand an idea, product, or service;
- asking a question to learn more due to an interest in the topic;
- agreeing or disagreeing with your opinion;
- asking what the next step should be.
Practice how you will request questions from your audience. If you are truly seeking an active session, use open questions, such as, “What questions do you have?,” or “The first question, please?” If you need to wrap things up, ask closed questions, like “Does anyone have any questions?” Most people don’t like to be first, so consider seeding the audience with a colleague who will ask a predetermined question. Also, if there’s hesitation on the audience’s part, you can introduce the first question yourself by saying, “Here’s a question I was asked earlier today…” This can serve to warm up the audience, while also helping you control the direction of the session.
It’s important to promote your Q&A session prior to your presentation. Information can be included on the registration page, landing page, social media, and by mentioning it during your presentation’s introduction. This gives your audience time to prepare any questions they may have. Again, if you are holding mini sessions throughout your talk, remind the audience that they’ll have a chance to ask questions later.
Make use of the software available that makes interacting with your audience, collecting and fielding questions, easy and natural. Many virtual event platforms offer the ability to conduct polls and receive questions during your Q&A session using mobile devices. An added advantage of the online format is that people can ask questions or provide their opinions anonymously – without risk of embarrassment or judgment from the group. Having a moderator handle the online polling and questions will make this process easier.
Some apps will allow your audience to vote on submitted questions, which will give you a list of priority questions along with a better understanding of your audience’s interests and needs. If you find you have a number of priority topics, you can break your audience down into smaller groups for discussion. After 10 minutes or so, they can come back together to share their results.
Keep in mind that you are in charge of the Q&A session! When dealing with an open forum, it’s important to feel confident in handling your audience. You want to be able to get your point across while also keeping things on track and your audience engaged. Always be polite and professional.
Here are a few tips for taking control of the Q&A session:
- Repeat each question loudly and clearly before answering. This ensures that all of the audience hears the questions;
- Don’t be afraid to take the time to think about the question before answering;
- If you’re unsure of your understanding of the question, paraphrase it and ask for confirmation – or, if need be, ask for clarification;
- Keep on topic! If you receive a question that is off topic, politely point out the actual topic at hand and express an interest in following up later on a one-on-one basis;
- If you don’t have an answer, say so and suggest getting in touch by email with the answer as soon as possible;
- If someone begins rambling, or trying to give their own presentation, politely interrupt with “Do you have a specific question I can answer?,” and quickly move on; and
- If you receive a hostile question, thank the inquirer. This goes a long way to neutralizing the situation. Again, suggest you will follow up with them outside of the session.
Sending out a follow-up email will give you the chance to highlight some of the questions and answers that were addressed as part of the Q&A session. It also gives you the opportunity to expand on some of the topics covered, perhaps by including documents or other helpful resources. When closing the Q&A session, be sure that attendees have the contact information they need to follow up with you or others on your team.