Conversation Piece: Worcester College, Oxford by Edward Irvine Halliday
The first part of this article is dedicated to tips on preparing yourself to answer questions before the event. In the second part, we focus on what to do directly during the question block at your presentation.
Questions are good. Good questions are even better.
Answering questions from the audience is the most important part of any online event. Apart from, of course, the presentation of the main material. Questions are a great indicator of how well you’ve prepared your presentation.
First, there must be questions. If no one asks any questions following your event, it is a fiasco. This means that you failed to interest and hook the audience, and the content needs to be radically reworked for the next presentation.
Secondly, it should be clear from their questions that the event visitors understand what you want to convey to them, and that now everyone is simply trying to clarify the details and nuances that are important to them personally. If, to answer a question, you need to actually repeat part of the presentation’s main material then your presentation needs to be made clearer in the future.
When to answer questions – during the presentation, or at a specifically allotted time?
Some experienced speakers prefer the first option, as it is the most dynamic approach and most closely resembles a friendly conversation. However, it is the most time-consuming, the most difficult to prepare for, and it is effective only with a small audience. Even with ten viewers, working in this format is very difficult because the speaker’s reaction to questions constantly breaks the thread of the main story. This option is only good for a close circle of “friends” – employees or regular customers.
In most cases, the best option is to allocate a special time slot in the presentation plan for questions and answers. This decision allows the speaker to retain full control over the event and conduct its main segment according to their own plan, working within the allotted time. Obviously, the final part of a presentation is best for answering questions. However, if it is a long webinar lasting an hour or more, multiple question blocks can be made – for example, after each section.
It is especially useful to remind that part of the audience that, for some reason, has not read the presentation plan exactly when you will answer questions.
Rehearsal is the key to successfully working with an audience.
You need to prepare even more thoroughly for the block of questions and answers than for the main part of the event. Consider in advance what questions the audience might have. Rehearse with colleagues, business partners, friends or loyal customers. Information about the event attendees can be a big help for your rehearsals – take the time to study the registration forms. Try to conduct rehearsals in as close to the conditions of the real event as possible and be sure to keep a record of them for later study. In addition, the notes, if necessary, will help you in seeking advice from more experienced presenters.
Always keep calm.
Keep your emotions under control, even if the question or the way it is asked annoys you. The worst thing you can do is lash out at the questioner. Keep in mind that in the vast majority of cases, no one wants to provoke you or question your competence. It’s just that most of us, from our school days, have been accustomed to perceiving questions as an act of aggression aimed at taking us out of our comfort zone.
Even if you are deliberately provoked – by calmly and professionally answering such a question on its merits, you will earn extra points in the eyes of other visitors to the presentation. The maximum that you can afford is slight irony. However, your audience should not think that you are being derisive or condescending.
In addition, it is important not to confuse calmness with feigned friendliness. The traveling salesman’s smile is outdated and should be retired.
State the question format in advance.
Before the event and before the start of the Q&A block, convey to the audience the format in which questions can be asked. For example – no longer than thirty seconds aloud or three hundred characters in a text chat. Clarify that these should be questions, not comments or reasoning. Utilize a small part of the screen for a corresponding “reminder”.
For more tips, check out our next post.
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