There is nothing worse than getting a difficult question, left field question or one that is a little off topic after you have presented your talk. Or is there? How about being part of a question and answer panel of experts and getting a question that you can not answer, is left field and a little off topic and you are now in front of the audience and your fellow experts. The secret to handling both scenarios is really the same. Do great preparation. In this article I am going to provide you with some tips that will help you participate more confidently and more effectively as a Q and A panel member after your presentation.
- Do your preparation
Who is going to be in the room and what are their needs and concerns. Is your message good news or bad news from the audience’s perspective? If you then step into their shoes and their mindset, you can often anticipate the questions that you are going to be asked. In business we call this environmental scanning. Prepare an answer for those questions
- Jump in and answer first
As part of a panel, it is best to jump in and say, “I will answer that”, or, “let me respond to that”. This helps you set the scene, or the tone of the Q and A session. It allows you to set the direction in which the Q and A session goes. Also, as the questions get harder or more contentious, you will be able to deflect that question to another panel member, as you have already contributed. If you sit back and say nothing, when the hard question comes, the MC may say – Peter, would like to answer that one. My punishment for remaining silent. Jump in first if you can.
- Confidently say I will take that on notice
Have a confident and credible way of saying that you do not know the answer and you will find out and get back to them. Most people, as part of a panel, panic, get nervous, look uncomfortable when they don’t know the answer. We can not know everything. And because you are part of a panel, if you don’t have the answer to a question that is asked of you, you can ask if any of the other panel members know the answer. If not, you will find out the answer and get back to the audience. The secret here is to remain calm and confident while under fire.
- Have some numbers at hand
One way to look confident and credible is to have some statistics and data about your topic and your message. When you answer a question, you can then quote those numbers. This makes you look good and increases the credibility of your answer. So learn and write down key statistics that relate to what you will be speaking on.
- Honour the other panel members
A big mistake is to completely disagree or discredit a panel member who has spoken before you. The general rule is to find something you agree on and then add your perspective to the answer. Experts in interpersonal skills would tell you to use “and” and do not use “but”. Bill said this “BUT I think you will find……”. The BUT negates what Bill said. Bill said this “AND I think you will find…….”. The AND does not negate what Bill said and it adds your perspective to the discussion.
- Have clarity on your major message
Being clear on your major themes or major points that you want people to take away from your Q and A session beforehand, will enable you to anchor your answers to your key message. You will be able to answer the question and you will include those phrases or those themes that bring us back to your key message. This is like media training, where you need to be able to give those 10 to 12 second grabs that the media can use, and which highlight your core message. Have those key words and key themes ready to weave into all your answers.
The next time you find yourself on a Q and A panel, do your preparation and use some of the strategies I have shared with you here. The worst thing is to be part of a panel and go in cold and expect that you can do a great job. Preparation is the secret.
If you would like to improve your communication skills and Q and A skills, we are running workshops in Darwin form the 22 to 23 of October: Assertive Communication Skills Workshop on 22 October, Effective Communication Skills on 22 October, Difficult Conversations on 23 October and Thinking and Speaking Off the Cuff on 23 October.