Sunday, February 21, 2010

Got lots to say? Save it for the Q&A

This week, I facilitated a workshop for scientists on communicating their research to public audiences, and asked a colleague to sit in to observe me and provide feedback (something you should do from time to time to ensure your ongoing development as a speaker).  One aspect he liked was an open-ended section, late in the day, when we were reviewing as a group short videos of some of the participants attempting to deliver messages they'd created early in the day.  The videos offered a jumping-off point for me -- and all the participants -- to share what we noticed in each video.  And those observations allowed me, as facilitator, to share more concrete tips and advice. 

So a video showing someone um-ing their way through a message let me talk about ums, why they're natural and how to replace them with time-buying phrases.  A question about "Was I gesturing too much?" let me talk about planning gestures, just as you plan what you want to say.  Another question, "What should I do with my hands?" led to a demonstration of how to avoid immobilizing your hands, something that leads to more ums and speaking stumbles.

My observer said he loved how I was able to weave so many facts into the Q&A--it made me look knowledgeable, but also reached audience members right at the moment where they were learning something new and needed to know more about the next step to take. 

For many presenters, the goal is to show what they know, and they choose to do that in their "main" speech or presentation.  But there's something to be said, I think, for leaving a lot of facts to emerge during the question-and-answer session. Even though this workshop lasts a day, I know going into it that there's no way for me to share an exhaustive knowledge base with my participants. We'll go "a mile wide and an inch deep," I tell them, and give them a good start. I could try to cram the facts into other parts of the day, but leaving them the chance to come out during the Q&A puts the participants in the driver's seat.  As the speaker, you can still look smart--and your audience can get in those questions at the time of their choosing, when your facts are most likely to hit home.

Related posts:  How to listen to audience questions

Graceful ways with Q&A

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K8Peters said...

I love this approach and have used this for a long time. I like it because saving some of your info for the Q and A allows you to relax and create a more personal relationship with the audience through a different use of your voice. When you answer questions, and actually "work" with someone, you usually relax your voice and use a more authentic voice, coming from the heart and personality rather than just from the wonderful authoritative persona you have created as a subject matter expert. This builds trust and encourages further connection after the day of the presentation.

Thanks for addressing public speaking in so many diverse ways!

Emily Culbertson said...

Great post and -- selfishly -- an opportunity for me to reflect for a moment on my own speaking curve. During this week's class, I made a deliberate decision to stop covering certain items. I don't think anyone missed most of them, and I covered what remained during Q&A. I have to remind myself that just because I know something doesn't necessarily mean I have to cover it. With confidence comes the ability to (I hope) better prioritize and edit -- or at least find better context for the knowledge, as you note here. Thanks again for your blogging on this topic -- it's always great food for thought for me.