Q&A Sessions: Prep For Them Like A Pro

BY Jessica Helinski
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Q&A sessions are pretty standard after presentations. Surprisingly, many reps don’t even bother practicing for them. This is a mistake, as a fumbled session can leave attendees walking away unimpressed. Plus, it’s a missed opportunity to further connect with and educate your audience. You want to make the most of these sessions to make sure your message has been heard and understood.

While the spontaneity of Q&As can make prep tricky, there are ways you can make sure you get the most out of each session. Since delivering a presentation is already nerve-​wracking enough, why not prevent further stress by getting into the right mindset for the Q&A?

In an article for HBR, Caroline Webb makes the case for preparing well for the post-​presentation session. By focusing some prep on the questions that might be asked, you can put yourself more at ease for this part of the sales process. 

How to approach the Q&A session

Appreciate the conversation

First and foremost, a dialogue should be your post-​presentation goal (dead silence is not what you want). “Remind yourself that questions are good,” Webb explains. “They are a sign of an interesting talk, since they mean that your audience has paid attention to what you’ve said and is now actively reflecting on your content.” So rather than hoping there’s zero questions asked and you can duck out, strive to create some back-​and-​forth with the audience. Reframe how you think of the Q&A: View it as a rewarding exchange with the audience after a successfully engaging presentation. To do this, Webb suggests trying the following:

  • After you’ve finished speaking, and the first person raises their hand, quickly imagine it as a positive. Instead of thinking, “oh no, a question!” think, “oh good, they’re interested!” This little thought change puts you in the right mindset right off the bat.
  • Start your response off with appreciation. Consider opening with, “thank you for raising this question,” or, “I appreciate your interest.”

Webb points out that the second tip also buys you some time to come up with a thoughtful response, as well as showing appreciation for your audience.

Embrace empathy

Typically, people ask questions to learn more or clarify something, not trip you up or argue. “as you prepare the content of your presentation, make sure to also spend time seeing the content through the eyes of your audience,” Webb suggests. “Consider what you would ask at the end of your talk if you were in their shoes.” Doing so can not only prep you for possible questions but also get you closer to the audience and their experience as listeners. Usually, there are three common themes that pop up during a Q&A:

  • The downside for them. Audience members often want to know the biggest obstacles to buying what you’re selling.
  • What else are they doing? Think about what your listeners may be going through right now (i.e., a new client of their own, restructuring, a shifting industry, etc.).
  • What happens next. Likely, you’ll field questions about what the audience can expect next. Be prepared to possibly ask questions about what steps come after your presentation.

Getting into the mindset of your audience members can do wonders for how you respond (and prep), plus, you may not be as rattled by questions if you have a deeper understanding of what the audience is thinking. “Considering your audience’s perspective helps you stay calm by reminding you that you’re dealing with human beings, not enemy combatants,” Webb writes. “It also makes it more likely that you’ll have impact with your ideas.”

Start with an agreement.

While it’s not going to happen during every Q&A session, sometimes someone will ask a question because they disagree with something you’ve said. When this happens, resist your natural urge to get defensive. Instead, start your response by bringing up something on which you both do agree (this shows you aren’t adversaries but rather on common ground). Then, take these steps:

  • Briefly explain your understanding of their view (“If I understand you right, you feel…”)
  • Emphasize where you agree (“We’re aligned on much of this. We both think that… and…”)
  • Focus tightly on where your real disagreement lies. (“The one place we differ is…”)
  • Explain what’s shaped your point of view and why you feel this way. (“The reason for my perspective is that…”)

By doing the above, you are acknowledging the other person’s concern, showing where you both align, and revealing the reasoning behind your thoughts.

Be curious.

Sometimes the question you’re asked feels truly out of left-​field, and it can make even the savviest presenter scramble for a response,” Webb writes. Don’t let your Q&A derail over a question that is not the norm. She admits, there isn’t much you can do to prepare responses for these types of questions, but you can be prepared to encounter them. Don’t let it rattle you, and instead, consider the following responses:

  • "Can you tell me more about what's driving your question?"
  • "That's intriguing — is this something you've experienced yourself?"
  • "Is there a specific reason for your concern on this?"

If none of those questions shed some light on your confusion, it’s time to fall back on the tried-​and-​true response of “let me get back to you.”

As you can see, there’s a lot you can do to prepare for the Q&A session, even if you don’t quite know what will be asked. As Webb points out, your feelings of comfort during the session also come from a feeling of control: “When we’re asked a tough question and we’re not sure how to respond, it can make us feel like we’ve lost control of the situation.” Follow Webb’s tips to better prepare yourself for these important post-​presentation talks. Likely, not only will you be ready for whatever the audience asks, you’ll have a great appreciation for the Q&A session in general.