Have you ever seen The Passing Zone – those crazy guys who juggle chainsaws? They stand on stage and toss the roaring things back and forth while making jokes. As insane and crazy as it is, it’s safer than a Q&A session. All the crazy guys can do is lose an arm or some fingers. You can cut your career short!
Few things are more uncertain and, frankly, dangerous than a Question and Answer session. Besides being deadly boring for the audience, all it takes is one person with a hidden agenda to transform Q&A into an awkward, uncomfortable disaster.
Check Your Motive
So ask yourself: Do you really need to do one? Since everyone here is a friend, let’s be honest. Most presenters add them because they simply don’t have enough content. The sessions are fillers. “If I end early, I’ll throw in a Q&A session.”
This is why most of these opportunities go flat. They have no objective. The moment any speaker ends the presentation and asks the audience for questions, everyone checks their watches. The audience is wondering how long they have to wait to leave.
For this style of Q&A to work, you have to decide when you plan the session if you want the audience to have questions about things you haven’t answered. You have to leave some information out on purpose, and give them things to ask about. In the majority of situations, if you do a good job focusing on the audience and telling them the things they need to know – there won’t BE any questions.
Here are some innovative ways to make Q&A sessions a positive, energizing experience. They don’t have to be uncomfortable, boring and as dangerous as juggling chainsaws! Loads of online resources give you tips for doing Q&A, so think of the list below as your top Safety Rules. If you are determined to juggle chainsaws, this is how you won’t get hurt.
1. Make 100% sure that you need to ask for questions.
2. Don’t put Q&A at the end of the session. Ask for questions along the way.
3. Don’t plant questions in the audience. You really aren’t fooling anyone. If it’s that important stress it in the presentation.
4. Make sure you are qualified to answer and or have the appropriate person nearby. If you can’t give the “final answer,” don’t open yourself up.
5. If you don’t know the answer, don’t BS. Admit it instead of trying to evade it or talk it to death.
6. Realize that once you start, you have to follow through. If you close the Q&A the moment someone asks a difficult question or gets emotional, you’ve lost all credibility.
The Best Way to Handle Q&A
Okay, imagine the company’s heavy-hitters want Q&A. You have no other choice, and the agenda has a full 60 minutes devoted to the session. Here’s the best way to handle it so everyone is happy, feels like they’ve been heard and the issues have been addressed. This is the most powerful technique I’ve used to create an experience where real information is exchanged about important and sensitive topics. I call it Directed Q&A.
Directed Q&A is an open dialogue with a team of executives or experts, the members of the audience and a professional facilitator. The facilitator moves through the audience and guides the discussion. During this session he (or she) plays several roles.
He is an informed communicator who shares the information responsibilities with your executives.
He is also a representative of the audience, asking questions that they have submitted.
And, he is a facilitator. He actively involves the audience in the program and encourages their participation. This is an interactive format where each person contributes. How does it work?
• Before the session, you develop a list of the most likely questions and any issues that are hot. No punches are pulled, and all the tough questions are included. The executives can review the questions and make sure they have valid answers.
• The audience is invited to submit cards before the session. Their questions are anonymous, and there are no restrictions. Any duplicate questions are removed and sorted, so the most important and controversial ones are first.
• During the session, there is only one microphone on the floor and the facilitator holds it. It isn’t an open forum. The facilitator asks all the questions for the audience. He begins by telling the audience that all their questions are included and he will ask as many as time permits.
• Now here’s a big point. Imagine how everyone sits up when the facilitator opens the segment by asking the flaming question that the audience thinks no one will answer. Instant credibility!
• During the session the facilitator can challenge an answer, ask for more information and even redirect the question to the audience. He is in control and can move through the questions and topics to keep the session moving.
Make Q&A Sessions A Positive, Energizing Experience
I’ve done this numerous times and it has always been a positive, energizing experience. It takes some preparation by the executives and the facilitator, but it gives you a structure to openly discuss critical or sensitive topics with everything under total control. It isn’t a complaint session, but an orderly, directed discussion of important information.
Plus, it works just as well for all those topics that aren’t “hot.” The audience will appreciate having the executive and experts address the important issues in a less formal way. And, you can actually answer more of the important questions without being afraid of being ambushed by unknown ones.
I guarantee that watches will not be checked and very few people will be checking email. Your session will be meaningful – and a success. And you can do it without a single chainsaw.
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