Wednesday, September 26, 2012

When should speakers ask questions during Q&A? 6 options

You know the usual course of events: The speaker gives her presentation, there's applause, and then it's open for audience questions. But speakers don't have to limit themselves to the A in Q&A. In fact, I'd recommend judicious use of questions when these situations arise in news conferences, conference calls or standard presentations and speeches:
  1. To clarify a cryptic question: Let's face it: Most questions are brief efforts to encompass big issues. If you're not sure exactly what that audience member is asking, ask for more information. "That's a great question. Tell me more about what you're precisely asking so I can be sure to answer you."
  2. To smoke out a coded viewpoint: If your topic is controversial, or you suspect the questioner holds a particular view that she's not sharing, ask about questions when the viewpoint isn't clear. "Tell me why you ask the question in just that way" invites the questioner to explain more. It may be nothing, or you may learn just what you're walking into...before you answer.
  3. To encourage other questions and sharing: "I'm curious--how many of you have a story you could share about this issue?" or "Has anyone here seen what I'm talking about in action?" might help a shy questioner open up, by showing what they have in common with others in the audience.
  4. To focus your answer: If the question's so broad you could drive a truck through it, it might take too long to answer. In that case, feel free to lob a couple of narrowing-down questions: "Do you mean in the past year, or in all of history?" or "Are you most interested in men's responses to the survey or women's?" and similar queries can help you respond briefly and in focus.
  5. To learn more about the questioner: Maybe the question included specific jargon that's known mostly to specialists, or a political buzzword, or a word with multiple meanings. "Do you have experience with this issue you can share?" or "Have you done work yourself in this area?" help you--and the rest of the audience--understand whether you're fielding an expert's question.
  6. To defuse a leading question: "Sounds like you have an answer all ready to that one--do you?" lets a questioner who wants to lecture show her hand. Letting her explain also buys you time to respond in whatever way you choose. This works when it's obvious there's a viewpoint lurking, unlike the example in number 2, above.