• "Please Hold your Questions 'Til the End."

    Have you ever heard a speaker say, "Please hold your questions 'til the end?" I have, hundreds of times. Here's why that's a bad idea:

    1. People who have a burning question on their mind are distracted and unlikely to fully grasp whatever comes next. Their learning is now compromised.
    2. Unless people write their question down, they might forget what it was. 
    3. When you ask your audience to be silent 'til the end, you create an unnatural relationship. In fact, you prevent a relationship from developing.
    4. You show that you are fearful of something. Losing track? Losing control? Running out of time? Not knowing the answer? Competent speakers have the tools to prevent these possibilities.

    If you are lucky enough to get questions, you may have to "praise and limit." You might say, "I'm delighted that you are so interested! I want to be sure I deliver what I promised, so I'll take one more question now."

    Here is my final argument against "Hold your questions 'til the end." Would you ask the same of a dining companion? "I thought you should know my lunch rule: I will do all the talking until the final five minutes. At that time, you can ask questions or offer your opinion."

    You'd be a very lonely diner indeed! Don't be a lonely diner and don't be a lonely speaker either.

  • Mastering the Q&A

    Most speakers look forward to the Q&A. It's exciting when people show interest in your topic.

    But if you don't handle this segment well, your presentation can end on a weak note. Here are some challenges and how to handle them:

    There aren't any questions. You've generously saved ten minutes for questions, but there aren't any. Instead of, "Do you have any questions?" ask, "What questions do you have about _______ or _________? This assumes that they have questions, and that now is the time to ask them.

    Still nothing?

    Without bullying or begging, say, "A common question is _______. The answer is ______." This will get the ball rolling. 

    What if you don't know the answer? There are two ways to not know the answer: the wimpy way and the confident way. Instead of cringing and weakly admitting that you don't know, be bold: "Now there's something I don't know. But I know where to get the answer. Leave your business card with me and I'll get back to you within two days." 

    A hostile question from the audience can be unnerving. But you should accept and appreciate a heckler. Here is the ideal attitude: This person is a helper disguised as a jerk.

    Once a man in my audience rudely asked, "Why should we listen to you? What are your credentials?" What a great question! Though I didn't love his tone of voice, inwardly I was excited. I got to talk about my work without appearing to brag. 


  • The Disappearing Audience

    Nearly 200 women showed up at Honolulu's biggest department store to attend a presentation given by a major cosmetics company. Lets call the presenter Jean-Marc. Jean-Marc had flown in from New York to promote the new spring line of products (and to sell them).

    Toward the end of a compelling presentation, Jean-Marc began to take questions from the audience. One woman wondered which color palette would suit her coloring. He walked over to her and the two of them had a cozy chat. The next question was from a woman who wanted to know about hair color. Again, Jean-Marc walked over and conducted a private consultation.

    By this time, the message was clear: The presentation was over. People began to gather their belongings and say their good-byes. The quick-witted store manager saw her potential sales disappearing and took center stage.

    "Ladies, please take your seats. We're about to offer door prizes and an all-paid trip to New York. You must be present to win!" She saved the day.

    Get the point? When you answer questions, include everyone. Jean-Marc should have said, "This lady is asking about our line of products for those of you with olive skin tones. Here is what we have for you . . ."