Handling Question and Answer Sessions with Authority

Man and Woman

Kevin and Leah were thrilled to finally get a meeting with a team of business investors. They had prepared a brief but powerful sales pitch, full of imagery and stellar visuals. All was going well, until the question and answer portion.

The team practiced for hours what they would say, but Kevin and Leah did not spend much time thinking about how they would field questions.

After the question and answer session, they exited the stage disappointed at how they had answered the investors’ questions.

How could they have handled the questions with confidence and authority? Could they have prepared for questions?

Contrary to popular belief, in the same way that you can prepare for a talk, presentation, or conversation, you too can also prep yourself to anticipate and effectively answer audience questions.

The communication consultants at Speakeasy recommend following this simple three-step format to expertly prepare for comments and questions.

Listen and Breathe

When you are receiving questions, take a moment to breathe and clear your mind. You have to listen carefully so that you can be sure exactly what question was asked and how it was asked. As you listen, focus on the speaker, and wait to consider your response until the question has been asked and the speaker is finished. Too often, speakers listen for a brief second and then immediately begin thinking of their response without fully hearing the question. Remember, you are the listener, so listen and breathe. If you keep breathing you will hear the question better and your brain will have the oxygen necessary to help you come up with a quick and complete answer.

Pause and Think

Even if you have your response or answer ready immediately after the speaker has asked the question, take a second or two to breathe and gather your thoughts. By taking this pause, you are conveying the importance of the question and showing the audience that you are considering their point of view. If you think you will need more than a few seconds to collect your thoughts, inform the audience by saying, “That is a great question. Please give me a moment to think about this.” Keep in mind that your pause will always seem a lot longer to you than to your listeners. It is better to gather your thoughts and deliver a cohesive answer, than to rush an answer that may be confusing or incomplete.

Answer the Question Only

Be sure you understand the question before you start answering. It is acceptable to ask the speaker to repeat the question. You may also want to paraphrase the question or ask for further clarification, especially if the question includes an unfamiliar term. Effective speakers are able to both focus on and structure their response to answer the question being asked and only the question being asked. Whenever possible, answer the question simply and directly, then stop. You should seek to only make one point per question. Providing more information than needed based on the question asked can portray that you were either not listening, or may be trying to push an alternative motive. Answer your audience’s questions genuinely and clearly.

In some instances providing an an example or an illustration can be a great way to answer a question. However, keep the example short and to the point. The key is to give the audience enough information to satisfy their questions, but to also spark their interest in  wanting to learn more and engage in further discussion. By being succinct with your responses, you are opening the door for two-way communication.

For your next presentation or conversation, take a few minutes to prepare yourself for how you will receive and answer questions. This preparation can mean the difference between ending a talk on a high note with confidence and authority, or concluding a presentation with diminished credibility.

At Speakeasy, our business communication trainings are designed to meet your communication goals. Our full-time Faculty are dedicated to providing communicators, at all levels, the opportunity to learn and practice key interpersonal communication skills. If you’re interested in learning more about our world-class corporate communication programs, click here.