A presenter’s peers can save the day with clarifications, humor.
Business Communication Skills: Colleagues to the rescue
Learn presentation skills that give you the tools you need.
Imagine you are in a room full of highly technical engineers. You are an employee of a consulting company that is presenting information to them on various research topics. As you give your talk you expect pointed questions, cynical remarks, sarcasm and even some playful humor. At the back of the room sit your peers, waiting their turn to present.
I attended this meeting with other consultants, some of whom were relatively new to the field and some of whom had Ph.D.s. Their presentation abilities ranged from those who could remain calm through the question period and provide good answers, to those who were scared to death and couldn’t answer the questions very well. Age and experience did not seem to be a factor. A few of the younger speakers coped quite well, and I suspect they had gained experience and training at college and other venues.
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS?
Culture of helpfulness: As the presenters were challenged and questioned, they occasionally froze trying to understand the technical question and form an answer with adequate detail. I hate to see anyone put on the spot (I have been there myself), and it made me feel good to hear the presenter’s peers at the back of the room jumping in to help clarify the question and provide information. This is an excellent culture of employees who have an inherent instinct to help each other and make sure that all are successful. This in turn maintains the image of the research/consulting company, which is hoping to make a sale.
Exceptional workplaces have a strong focus on making sure employees have good communication skills, a sense of balanced fun and respect, and trust for each other. Instead of sitting at the back and smirking as the presenter “crashes and burns,” fellow employees will do anything to help advance each other and the company.
Death by public speaking: The second visual I have from the meeting was that of a relatively young consultant who was presenting. It was an image I have seen before in different forums, and it haunts me. The young man appeared scared to death and was nervously coughing and clearing his throat. His peers helped him out when they could, but his stress just grew. I was relieved when he finished and sat down.
Fright and poor presentation skills are preventable. Organizations such as Toastmasters International can help a person become a good speaker in six to 12 months and an exceptional speaker if a person stays longer. The cost for six months of public speaking training can be less than a tank of gasoline. Many companies send their employees to Toastmasters to help them succeed. Find a club at www.toastmasters.org.
You have to laugh: The third visual I have from this meeting is that of an experienced presenter trying to get a video to work in PowerPoint. The documentation for his research project included a high-speed video of a large test explosion, which would show a flame running through a flammable vapor cloud and transitioning into a fearful explosion. Explosion videos are one of the highlights of these presentations, and everyone waited in anticipation.
The presenter spent a minute or two trying to get the video to work but was unsuccessful. “You will need to act out the explosion,” one of his peers shouted from the back. Another shouted: “Can you do an interpretive dance?” The presenter was the type who could take the humorous comments in stride, and the room erupted in laughter. With the laughter in the room the failure of the video became inconsequential and the presentation continued without it.
The presenter’s peers knew that humor was appropriate for him. They knew he had a sense of humor and would “play with their comments.” I am sure you would agree that the comments would not have been appropriate for the previously described stressed presenter. Humor is a great tool to have in a meeting or presentation, but be careful it does not cross the line and hurt someone. If there is a single person in the room who would be impacted negatively by the humor, it is not worth it.
Dave Hill, Keynote Speaker, Trainer, Author, and Engineer
Keep your audience focused by being relevant.
Use interactive techniques; vary your presentation.
Visualize a meeting where about 40 people are crammed into a conference room listening to technical presentation after technical presentation for a full day. The delivery mode is primarily PowerPoint with lots of wordy data on the slides. The technical data is overwhelming, the pace of data exchange is fast, and people can be seen fidgeting in their seats. The room lights are dimmed to allow the PowerPoint to be the focus of attention and to make the slides visible to people in the back of the room.
Recently, I was sitting in this audience and the presenter was interrupted to get clarification on a point. As he responded, an out-of-place rumbling sound was heard: someone was snoring. The presenter paused to see who was asleep, then smiled and continued to answer the question. Suddenly, the sound escalated into a full-blown, high-volume snoring session. Smiles and glances bounced around the room, and someone gently nudged the snorer in the back. He awoke in a moment of shock, quickly becoming aware that he had been caught napping.
If you present intricate or technical information, how would it feel to have an audience member fall asleep and start snoring? Have you ever had to present a technical subject after your audience has had a heavy lunch? Have you ever been distracted by someone nodding off during your presentation?
HOLDING YOUR AUDIENCE’S ATTENTION
It will help if there is fresh air in the room and the temperature is not too warm or cold. Can you increase the ventilation rate without creating disturbing background noise?
Know your subject and display energy, enthusiasm and vocal variety. Make sure your voice can be heard clearly throughout the room, or people will tune you out.
Give audience members a written agenda so they have a clear image of the flow of the content. This also helps keep the session on track and on time. If discussions get bogged down or off-topic, the agenda gives you a reason to step in. We have all witnessed the audience member whose comments go on and on, causing the audience to get fidgety and start tuning out.
At the beginning of the presentation, give attendees a brief review of the rules for:
Cell phones, laptops and other electronic devices
Questions (are they allowed throughout the presentation or toward the end?)
Then enforce the rules.
Have frequent breaks.
If you have control over snack food and lunches, consider keeping them light (minimize the potential for “food coma”).
Vary the modes of presenting as much as possible. You could include:
A flip chart
Asking an audience member to provide an example to drive home your point
Illuminate your points with real-life examples. Stories and humor fit well with the delivery of technical and intricate information. Use the framework of making a point, telling a relevant story and demonstrating how this can be practically applied by the audience. The most effective stories are those that the audience can relate to.
If using PowerPoint or another type of slide presentation, put effort into providing visual information rather than overloading with technical data. If possible, design your slides’ color scheme so that you do not have to dim the lights to see them and/or use a high lumen projector.
Use interactive techniques.
Get the audience brainstorming on a subject, then choose the ideas you want them to “drill down” and explore in more detail. The initial brainstorming could be conducted on a flip chart if the writing is visible to the audience. Another way would be to have a computer and projector and assign an assistant to type in the ideas.
Ask the audience to form groups to brainstorm a point. Ask them to assign a leader to summarize each group’s thoughts.
Ask the audience (or small groups) to discuss the pros and/or cons of a specific idea.
A powerful way of energizing a meeting or presentation is to include competition, such as a game. Everyone — from front-line workers to executives — has a competitive urge. The important aspect here is to know your audience to make sure the competition/game is appropriate to the attendees, the occasion and the learning value.
A simple way of getting audience members focused on the best choices is to give them a choice of several answers and ask them to identify the least effective ones.
When I have a presentation that uses a handout, I may have some pages with sentences that are missing key words. Audience members fill in the words as the information is given to them. This technique provides you with a “cheat sheet” so you do not need to remember the content and order of the information. It also helps the audience retain the information.
Research indicates that when audiences hear information, they remember about 20 percent after a week; if they listen and see information, they remember about 50 percent; and if they listen, see and physically work out a problem, or solve a specific problem with “hands on” techniques, they are likely to remember about 75 percent.
ALWAYS BE THINKING OF A BETTER WAY
Next time you feel yourself nodding off or losing interest during a presentation, ask yourself, “If I was this presenter, what would I do differently to make this more effective?”
Dave Hill – Engineer, Professional Keynote Speaker, Seminar Leader, and Author
Get people to buy into your concepts and take action.
Make sure your ‘call to action’ is clear and achievable.
Whether you are an engineer, leader or executive, you are involved in convincing others to buy into your concepts and take action. For that reason, you need to be effective at persuasion.
Here are some key considerations when you need to change or reinforce opinions or beliefs.
PERSUADE THEM TO BUY IN, TAKE ACTION
Get their attention.
Provide information in a format they will comprehend.
Convince them by changing and/or reinforcing opinions or beliefs.
Provide information in a format that can be remembered and relayed to others.
SUCCESSFUL PRESENTERS HAVE:
Credibility on the subject
Preparation and practice
Excellent presentation skills
ANALYZE YOUR AUDIENCE
What is the audience’s level of knowledge?
What presentation types will be most effective?
What supporting information will they best relate to (information sources, statistics, stories, analogies, etc.)?
What do they agree on now? It can be beneficial to start on common ground.
What “hot buttons” should I stay away from?
Should I try to build allies by visiting some audience members beforehand?
Do I know the names of the attendees, or should I provide name badges so I can call people by name? People like to hear their own names, and this can help build positive rapport.
Is humor appropriate for the occasion and the audience? If possible, use humor to illuminate points, reduce tension and keep people energized.
What stories with emotional content can I incorporate to help persuade?
CHOOSE THE RIGHT PRESENTATION MODE
Discussion without any audio visual tools
DON’T CONFUSE THE AUDIENCE
Develop clear, concise objectives. Have a crystal-clear view of your goal. I find it beneficial to take a business card-sized piece of paper and write: “As a result of this presentation, I want the audience to understand and/or do the following …”
Roadmap your presentation so that the information is presented in a logical format and is supported by visuals such as a statistical chart, picture, diagram, video, analogy, etc.
It helps if the visuals build on a relatable theme. For example, if I want to persuade people to take a negotiation-skills course, I could use golf as an analogy. The photo of a player teeing off and missing the ball could be used with a headline statement to drive home the point “Failure can get you noticed in a really bad way.” The photo of a grass divot could be a visual for “Expect setbacks; it takes practice.” The golf ball falling into the hole could symbolize “Persistence and practice get results.”
The presentation should be developed so that audience members have a clear understanding of what the objective is and what the outcomes are going to be.
Develop your presentation taking into consideration the level of knowledge of the audience. For example, if you are delivering technical information to a non-technical audience, you may want to present information at a level they will understand, or give them the information piece by piece, slowly bringing them into the details and complexity.
Repeat, summarize and emphasize your points to aid retention.
Make sure your “call to action” is clear and achievable.
BUILD YOUR CREDIBILITY, LIKABILITY
Analyze your audience so that you are incorporating information they can best relate to. Illuminating your points with stories or statistics that they cannot perceive will lead to confusion.
Do not turn up with an unpolished presentation. Practice, practice, practice (out loud).
Dress professionally and appropriately for the occasion and the audience. Consider dressing slightly better than your audience.
Use credible facts and statistics that can help demonstrate you have taken the time to research your subject and that you are an expert. Identify the sources of information.
Dave Hill, Engineer, Professional Speaker, Trainer, Author
Think about the meetings you have attended where everyone is sitting at a table and someone is trying to convey information and get people to agree. Can you recall times when you were delivering information and no one was paying attention to you? Perhaps attendees were flicking through your handout materials; maybe the discussions were going off on an emotional tangent.
Here are some success strategies for conducting a presentation while seated.
Practice your presentation out loud until it starts to flow smoothly.
Determine the least disruptive method of distributing handouts. See further details below.
Cell phones, BlackBerries, iPods, etc. – what rules will apply? Will you ask participants to put their electronic devices on vibrate and refrain from using them unless something urgent comes up? A positive way to ask is: “I would appreciate it if you would refrain from using your cell phones or laptops. I realize that some of you may have issues going on that you need to monitor, but please put your devices on vibrate and leave the room for any discussions.”
ROOM SET UP
If feasible, sit near the primary decision-makers (directly opposite them if possible). This enables you to observe body language, make strong eye contact and be heard clearly.
It is important to remember that everyone at the table is your customer; make sure you are in a position where you can make eye contact with everyone.
POSTURE AND GESTURES
Sit upright with both feet firmly on the ground. Good posture provides an image of professionalism and maximizes the use of the diaphragm for voice projection. Your hands should rest above the table so they are instantly available for purposeful gestures.
Option 1: Place the handout or handouts at each seating place.
Advantage: It can be the least disruptive. Once you need participants to review a section, ask them to open the handout, then guide them to the section you want to discuss.
Disadvantage: They may decide to read ahead instead of concentrating on what you are saying (unless you ask them not to review the handout until asked to).
Option 2: Pass the handouts out at the point in the presentation that you want to review the information with attendees (consider having an audience member as a helper).
Advantage: This method reduces the potential for the handout to be distracting.
Disadvantage: If you do not coordinate it well, it can disrupt the meeting and use up your allocated time.
SUCCESS STRATEGIES FOR HANDOUTS
It is imperative that attendees find the specific handout sections as quickly as possible. If people cannot locate what you are talking about, they may get frustrated or miss the point you are making.
Color-coordinate multiple handouts and refer to the colors in your presentation.
Number each page and refer to the numbers.
Assemble the handouts using staples or put them in a binder separated with numbered or colored tabs. The tabs can also be used to lead the audience to a specific handout.
Keep the handout information as uncluttered as possible so that a simple glance will bring the audience to a specific section. If you have control over the handout design, consider including some white space to allow audience members to take notes.
If the information on the handout is cluttered or difficult to navigate, consider marking the sections of interest in different colors, circling sections or highlighting text to make it easier to direct attendees to the right place.
Dave Hill – The Re-Engineered Engineer. Keynote Speaker, Trainer, Author, and Speech Coach.
Imagine you are delivering a technical presentation to more than 300 peers at a conference. Your boss had convinced you to develop and deliver the presentation. You are scared to death of speaking in public. As you stand at the lectern holding onto it for dear life, nervousness prevents you from making eye contact with anyone in the audience. In your hands are your notes, which could have helped guide your thoughts, but they are shaking so much that you cannot read the 12-point font size. The audience becomes more focused on your slow death than on the content of your speech. It’s a disaster, one of the most humiliating days of your life.
A hypothetical story? Sadly, it’s not. It happened to an acquaintance of mine, a highly skilled engineer who knew his subject inside and out but wasn’t able to maintain his composure, keep his thoughts and, most important, read his notes effectively. I never saw him present again.
It’s best not to use notes, but if you must, use them effectively. At the least, use them as sparingly as possible.
Notes can diminish your level of eye contact and engagement with the audience. Read from a lectern, notes anchor you and prevent the use of purposeful movement that could enhance your presentation. When you recite mechanically from notes, bullet points or a PowerPoint, you are less effective. Engage the audience with a story, then walk back to the lectern solely for the purpose of glancing at notes.
SOME REASONS FOR USING NOTES
Not enough time to prepare and memorize the information.
The information is highly technical and difficult to remember.
You have quotes or numbers that you want to deliver accurately.
Your presentation is lengthy or does not have a strong “flow” to it, and it is difficult to remember.
You have trouble remembering information under stressful conditions.
SHEETS OF PAPER
Use stiff paper such as 32 lb. – it is easier to handle, and shaky hands will be less obvious. Number the sheets in case you drop them and need to reassemble them in a hurry.
Use a large font size, such as 20 point, so your eyes can pick up the gist of a sentence with just a quick glance. If possible, just include key words, bullet points or a mind map that will guide you through your presentation.
If using a lectern or something similar to rest your notes on, discreetly slide the sheet to the side when you are finished with it.
To keep the notes less obvious, do not staple them together or print on both sides (so you don’t have to visibly manipulate them).
Your introduction should also be on stiff paper and in a large font size, as the person introducing you may be nervous or have difficulty reading the sentences.
Sometimes while giving a presentation, I carry a note card in my pocket that contains a few bullet points to help me get back on track should I lose my way. I keep this in a consistent place (the right-hand pocket inside my jacket) so I do not distract the audience by having to search for it.
Note cards should be identical size, on stiff paper, with a font size that is easy to read.
Keep the information to key words, brief sentences, bullet points or a basic mind map.
Number them so if you drop them you can easily return them to the correct order.
Practice sliding the cards from top to bottom as you finish with them.
Some presenters and trainers use handouts with “fill in the blanks.” Key words are left out of a sentence, and trainees fill in the blank when prompted by the presenter. These handouts help a presenter stay on track (the handout is a step-by-step guide) and help the trainees better remember the information.
Handouts should be numbered so you can direct the audience to a specific page. You also may want to highlight important sections in the handout so you can direct the audience to a specific part: “Let’s jump to page 3, the last paragraph that is highlighted in yellow.”
A FLIP CHART
A flip chart is another covert method of using notes. Information you want to cover or are going to write on the flip chart as part of your presentation can be written on it in light pencil ahead of time. These hidden cues can help jog your memory.
Dave Hill – The Re-Engineered Engineer – Keynote Speaker, Trainer, and Author
It was my first job, working in the engine room of a worldwide cargo ship as a junior engineering officer. I was in trouble. The English engineer officer that I worked with on shift, 3rd officer Neil had it “in for me”. I am not sure if his aggressiveness was an English-Irish cultural thing or that I was an inexperienced engineer that did not meet his expectations.
I was a small town Irish kid that grew up in a supportive environment, and did not know how to handle someone who was slowly but surely eroding my self-confidence and my self-esteem. For the first time in my life, I was questioning my worth. Then I cracked. My anger built up from biting my lip to planning revenge.
Neil was just finishing reassembling a huge air compressor the size of a small car, and was getting ready to do a test run. An air compressor that size has an element of danger, a bearing too tight, a piston ring installed wrong could cause the machine to self-destruct and throw projectiles.
Neil approached the start button with caution, hiding his body behind the metal structure post to provide protect him from potential danger. Unknown to him, I had been watching with revenge in my eyes. I was hidden not too far away, and in my hands, I had the largest sledgehammer on the ship – affectionately called “The Animal”.
Neil moved his hands towards the compressor start button while I raised the sledgehammer over my shoulders. He pressed the start button, and I simultaneously pounded the sledgehammer off the metal floor plates with the explosive noise of 1000 shotguns.
The scene seemed to go in slow motion – Neil’s face went white, his eyes bulged with fear, his instinct caused him to immediately drop on the floor and roll away from the machine. It was a perfectly orchestrated maneuver except for the fact that as he was rolling, his eyes caught sight of my bright-eyed laughing face while holding “The Animal” over my shoulder.
In another perfectly orchestrated maneuver he was on his feet chasing me and shouting at me, “For God’s sake Hill – you are an officer. Officers do not behave like that!” After the voyage was over several months later, I never saw Neil again. This was not a proud time of my life; I still had a lot of learning to do, and I ended up leaving this company in order to get promotions.
View a 2 ½ min. video of Dave telling this Story at an American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) banquet: http://youtu.be/Aa8y0vG6w6U
What Can We Learn From This?
As an engineer of over 30 years, I have grown to learn that conflict is a natural part of working with people. I have also grown to learn the importance of dealing with conflict rather than living with it. Differences of opinion, different motivations, emotional conflict, misunderstanding, ignorance, manipulation and prejudice are just a few of the aspects that can “light the fuse” of conflict. If not managed appropriately a workplace can be eroded to ineffectiveness. What are some of the devastating effects that can result to a workplace?
Loss of respect and trust
Employees setting each up for failure
A culture of “doing the minimum”
Increased turnover of valued employees
Loss of profits
Energy levels and creativity are sucked out of the workplace
Deadlines get missed
Teams that are not cohesive become inefficient
Ten Ways Exceptional Workplaces Handle Worker Conflict
Train people at all levels of the organization in conflict management, negotiation skills, and listening skills
Deal with conflict right away, rather than having it fester in the background
Hire people with exceptional communication skills and impeccable ethics
Address unresolved conflict efficiently and effectively through workplace resources
Embrace respect and trust
Energize and empower employees. In turn, they will do anything to help each other and advance the company
Create an aura of balanced fun-energy that helps derail conflict
Maintain happy and loyal workers
Evoke a culture where employees will speak up when they identify that someone may be making a bad decision (rather than smirking with the knowledge that the decision will lead that person to failure).
Discuss where conflict exists and brainstorm how to reduce it.
Here is what a previous boss wrote about me in a performance review many years later when I was working in a corporate office. It is a testimonial to the effort I had made to re-engineer my communication strategies:
“Dave is a master of using his sense of humor to diffuse tension. When he is around, the atmosphere becomes more friendly and cooperative. He always sees the humor in things, helping to avoid or defuse difficult situations”.
Dave Hill, The Re-Engineered Engineer. Speaker, Trainer, Author, and Speech Coach
Leading with humor
Make use of levity to get your point across
A leader’s humorous remarks can diffuse tension
According to a Robert Half International survey, 91% of executives agree that a sense of humor is important for career advancement; 84% believed that people with a good sense of humor do a better job.
A Bell Leadership study revealed that the two most desirable traits in a leader were a strong work ethic and a healthy sense of humor.
Successful communication in the business world includes delivering information in a format that will convince people to agree and take action. Creating a tone in the room to enhance candor, participation, and collaboration can drive success. The following are two examples of leaders capitalizing on the use of levity.
1) A friend was travelling to the corporate office to convince senior executives to spend $20+ million on equipment upgrades. When I met him the evening after his presentation he was glowing with success. His presentation went extremely well and he was successful in gaining consensus.
My friend confessed that about 15 minutes before his presentation, he became very nervous. He only relaxed when one of the executives started the conversation with some witty, humorous remarks – a great example of leading by setting a relaxed tone that facilitated open communication.
As a leader, wouldn’t you want your employees to feel that they can be candid and provide you with all the pro’s and con’s of a situation? Imagine if meeting participants are intimidated to the point that they give you the information that they feel you would like to hear rather than the possible negative outcomes.
2) Another example of incorporating humor was at a technical engineering meeting. Highly technical and opinionated engineers had flown in from around the world to decide what research programs would be funded. Nearly one million dollars was available for the research, although that would only be enough to fund a few of the projects. After hearing presentations that outlined the benefits of each research program, the technical experts would be wheeling and dealing to make sure funding votes went toward programs that would benefit their needs.
Before the meeting started, the president of the research company had an unusual request of the 50 or so attendees: Introduce yourself and tell what your first-ever job was. Engineers chuckled about being dishwashers in restaurants, farm hands and landscapers. There was laughter when someone pointed out a notable trend of the Irish in the group having worked in pubs before college. This simple icebreaker, which identified common ground and humble beginnings, set the stage for cordial dialogue during tough negotiations.
WHAT EASY THINGS CAN YOU DO TO ENHANCE THE SUCCESS OF MEETINGS?
Think about the things that you can do to incorporate levity, relax the atmosphere, and encourage cordial interaction among the participants. Some options include:
Turn up early for meetings to have casual conversations with others who arrive early.
Incorporate icebreaker activities that are appropriate for your audience and the occasion.
Start the meeting with an amusing story that relates to the content of the meeting and that the audience can relate to.
Dave Hill – The Re-Engineered Engineer – Professional Speaker, Trainer, Author and Speech Coach
If I was to ask you to name your all time favorite teacher you would immediately be able to recall someone who stood out from the others. Why do you remember this teacher even though several decades may have passed? Imagine how you would feel if someone was talking about you 10, 20, 30, or 40 years after you made an impression.
My favorite teacher was an eccentric called Mr. Little who taught science. It is now 35 years since I sat in his class and I still recall his way of communicating with passion, playfulness, and flair. He was one of the first creative communicators I came across. Unfortunately, he has since passed away and I never thanked him for helping me become an engineer.
This article is to encourage you to strive to be different. To aim to be the creative communicator that people remember forever. The three short videos below are excerpts from a presentation I gave at an event sponsored by Texas Instruments and the Chinese Institute of Engineers. In the videos, I describe three very different communicators that I will remember forever.
After you have viewed the videos, I would appreciate it if you could look into your past and honor someone by describing the unique way they communicated.
Article by Dave Hill – The Re-Engineered Engineer – Keynote Speaker, Trainer, Author, and Speech Coach
As a young engineer, I was sometimes nervous when presenting to upper management. The night before a presentation, I could not sleep. While driving to work the following morning brown liquid started flowing down my windshield. It took me a few seconds to realize that I had inadvertently left my coffee mug on the car roof. As the windshield wipers smeared the brown liquid, I knew I would have to get my brain together. Before the meeting, I decided to focus on eliminating any physical signs of nervousness and maintaining my composure.
As someone who conducts keynote speeches, workshops and seminars on communication strategies for engineers and other technical people, I am always on the lookout for distracting mannerisms. These can diminish the quality of a presentation, or give an indication of nervousness or lack of preparation.
TIPS FOR DEALING WITH NERVOUS GESTURES
Don’t lean on the lectern or table.
Avoid holding your hands in front of your crotch or behind your back or putting them in your pockets.
Most novice speakers have difficulty determining what to do with their hands, so work to automatically keep your hands at your sides, raising them only to provide natural gestures that will illuminate a point.
Don’t hold a pen or other object that does not provide value to the presentation, or notes that are not used or needed.
Keep your hands away from your hair (as a bald man, I don’t have this problem).
Avoid leaning back on your heels and raising the front of your shoes into the air. Sometimes people even seem to be keeping an imaginary beat.
Lose “mechanical” hand gestures and aim for natural ones by practicing. Audiences notice over-practiced gestures, as they take place slightly ahead of the wording they are intended for.
Be aware and don’t unconsciously fiddle with cufflinks or rings.
Don’t pace back and forth without a purposeful reason. Needless pacing does not complement your presentation.
Be aware of the tendency to gesture with your dominant hand.
IMPROVE YOUR GESTURES
When you are scheduled to deliver a presentation, ask people to give you feedback and suggestions for improvement. Let them know what you are looking for.
Practice, practice, practice and get feedback from people who have expertise. Most people do not know their gestures need improvement. Get rid of the bad ones and build good ones that will illuminate your points and enhance your presentation.
Dave Hill, Professional Speaker, Trainer, Author, and Speech Coach – Re-Engineer Your Communication Strategies
STRATEGIES FOR DOING A Q&A
The value of a question-and-answer session is that you engage the audience. You can also build your credibility by answering questions well.
Do not end with a question-and-answer session. This can literally suck the energy out of your presentation, and it will likely end with “warm, polite applause.” By having your closing story and call-to-action at the end, you have a better chance of finishing your presentation with impact and energetic applause.
Consider the amount of time you have for your presentation. If it is relatively short (up to 60 minutes) and you need to make sure you cover all your information, you may want to consider having the Q&A session toward the end. When developing your presentation, think about at which sections you will solicit questions and the different methods you will use to entice audience members to ask them.
Let the audience know up front when they can ask questions (anytime during the presentation, toward the end, afterward, etc.).
Anticipate questions, write down what you think the questions might be and practice delivering concise, quality answers. Do an audience analysis as you prepare for the event. Find out what is concerning them, what frustrates them and what parts of the presentation could produce hostile questions. Ask your friends and associates what questions they would potentially ask.
Think about how the audience will be able to hear the questions. It is frustrating if the audience cannot hear the question. Some people have quiet voices or may be too shy to project. If you will be using a hand-held microphone, think about the coordination. If possible, have a helper go around the room and hand the microphone to each questioner. The helper should be instructed to turn the microphone on and let people know that it needs to be held close to the mouth. Beware of feedback potential. Practice to make sure this does not become a cringing, screeching moment that kills your Q&A session.
You can also prompt the audience to write down questions and pass them toward the front where an assigned person will gather them. Writing questions on a piece of paper can also provide a means of getting timid audience members to ask questions.
It can be beneficial to include your email address and other contact information on your handout or other piece of paper for people to send you questions later.
When asking for questions, do not point your finger at the person you are choosing, as this is considered rude in many cultures. Point with your whole hand, with the palm facing upward.
Before answering a question, listen to the entire question; don’t cut off the questioner. Repeat the question back to the audience and pause before answering. Answer clearly and concisely, without giving a new “speech.” Pausing after you hear the question and repeating the question back to the audience gives you time to think about your response. Take your time both with easy questions and difficult questions. This can help provide adequate time to think through difficult questions without appearing “stumped.” When repeating back the questions, make eye contact with the questioner. Make eye contact with different audience members when answering the question. This helps maximize audience interaction rather than you having a one-on-one discussion with the questioner.
Answer questions honestly. Don’t try to bluff.
If you do not have a good answer, ask the questioner to write it on a piece of paper or business card and give it to you after the meeting. You can then research the question. Make sure you are dedicated to following up with your promise to respond.
Do not deflect questions by pushing them toward another contact; don’t “pass the buck.” If at all possible, get questioners the information they need.
If you do not have a good answer, ask the audience members if they can help out.
If a question is more of a comment or an opinion that is rambling on, this might be one time you discreetly and as politely as possible “cut the person off” and simply state, “thank you for the comment.”
To ensure that questions get asked at certain parts of your presentation, you may want to get the audience thinking about questions and say:
“The next part of my presentation is (controversial /complicated /intriguing). You may want to write your questions down on a piece of paper and I will answer them at the question-and-answer part toward the end of this section. You can either forward your written questions to me at that time or my assistant will hand you the microphone.”
“I typically get a lot of audience questions from the following part of my presentation. Let me tell you a story to illuminate my point, and then I will answer any questions.”
If someone is dominating the question-and-answer session, you could use a technique such as answering him while making eye contact with people in another section of the room. When you have answered the question, walk to another part of the speaking area and say something like, ‘Let’s get a question from this side of the room.’ “
Do not criticize your questioner or belittle him or her. If you do, you may make the audience hostile or reluctant to ask any questions.
Some questioners just like to ramble on. One way to handle this is to firmly ask the person for clarification on what the question is. Another way would be to say, “If I hear you right, your question is … ”
Keep your composure if you get hostile questions or loaded questions designed to erode your credibility or to manipulate you. Under certain circumstances, you may want to suggest, “Let’s discuss this one-on-one afterward so I can get more details and get you your answer.” When a hostile question is being asked, do not nod your head (to indicate you are listening) because the audience may interpret that you are in agreement.
When you have answered the question, watch the person’s body language and ask him, “Did that answer the question?”
If you tell someone, “That’s an excellent question,” stay consistent. If you do not say something similar for the next question, the person may be left with the feeling that her question was not important. Make a list of possible responses that will make audience members feel important.
“I get asked that question a lot; it’s a great question.”
“Thank you for asking that question.”
“That’s the best question of the day.”
“That question alone was worth my being here today.”
“That question brings back great memories for me; let me answer it with a brief story.”
“That’s an excellent question. I would prefer to research it and get back to you with as detailed information as I can. Can you write the question on the back of your business card, and I will get you an answer as quickly as possible.”
“That’s a great question, but a difficult one to answer. Let me answer it giving you my personal perspective.”
If you do not get any volunteers when you ask, “Who would like to ask the first question?” use humor and ask, “OK, who would like to ask the second question?”
If questions are few and far between or trailing off, say, “I have time for one more question.”
If you think the audiences may be hesitant to ask questions, have acquaintances in the audience ask some pre-arranged questions. Sometimes this is all that is needed to get the ball rolling.
How do you handle questions that come from someone with a strong accent – an accent you cannot understand?
You can say, “I hear you but I’m not sure just what you are asking. Can you ask the question another way?” That gives you two sets of data that you may be able to combine into an understanding of the question.
The other route is to get help from the audience. You can ask them if they have a comment or answer/opinion on the question. A little discussion from others may clarify the question.
And finally, you may simply say something like, “I’m sorry, but I just don’t understand what you are asking. Can someone in the audience explain it to me, please?” This admits defeat but does not totally place the blame on the accent or on the person asking the question.