Friday, October 8, 2010

Good on your feet: Non-anxious ways with Q&A

Most speakers think about fear and public speaking as it relates to their part of the presentation. But when I train speakers or watch them in action, the real anxiety seems to kick in--and trip them up--when they take questions from the audience.  That's why I put deft handling of Q&A on my list of what it means to be "good on your feet" as a speaker.

That anxiety seems to take several forms. I've seen some speakers act almost affronted to get questions (prompting my list of 17 reasons to welcome audience questions).  Some quickly pass over questions they don't want or like.  Some don't allow enough time for questions (there's an easy dodge--just fill the time yourself).  Some accomplished speakers make their worst flubs during this, the portion of the presentation they feel they can't control.  Some dread questions; others fail to anticipate them and get caught by surprise.

I think you should spend as much time preparing for questions as for your formal presentation (perhaps more so if your speaking gig is testimony before a legislature or other formal group of quizzers and questioners).   We'll be learning how to be resilient when it comes to taking questions during my next workshop, Good on Your Feet, coming up November 3 and 4.  Here are four steps I recommend any speaker take to prepare thoroughly for Q&A and to combat the anxiety that may come with it:
  1. View Q&A as your "second presentation."  When you start to consider question time as a separate block in your presentation, you can give it the attention it needs in preparation.
  2. Don't just anticipate the questions you expect or fear.  Of course, do think through those questions, but save time to practice how you'll handle the questions you want.  Many speakers fail to do so, and find themselves at a loss for words just when someone's handed them a golden opportunity.  Be sure you know how to describe your vision, what you'd do with an extra million dollars, your ultimate goal.  Make the most, not the least, of this question.
  3. Give yourself time to think.  Use my time-buying phrases to slow yourself down and give yourself time to think on your feet. Acknowledge the question or questioner ("What an important issue. I'm so glad you brought that up") and talk about the context, then answer.
  4. Learn to love the questioners.  Don't separate yourself from question-askers. This is a great time to move closer, physically, to your audience and narrow the visual gap between you and those asking you for more information.  If you find yourself thinking, "That's obvious. Why would she ask that?" stop yourself.  Remember there may be more behind the question than you are imagining. Then ask the questioner, "Tell us why you asked about that in particular--I'm curious." Listen to the response before you answer.
  5. Leave the audience something to ask.  Want to feel great and look even smarter during questions? (That's one good way to lose your anxiety.) Leave some information out of your already packed presentation and let the questions arise. Then you can use Q&A to add information and layer your audience's understanding over a longer period of time.
Share your tips for handling questions -- or your questions about Q&A.  Details on registering for the workshop are below.
Learn how to be a dynamic speaker in my next two-day workshop, Good on Your Feet: A dynamic speaking skills workshop, November 3 and 4 in Washington, DC. And if you subscribe to Step Up Your Speaking, the free monthly email newsletter from The Eloquent Woman, you'll get 25% off the workshop registration fee. Go here to subscribe...then become a fan of The Eloquent Woman on Facebook and join the conversation with thousands of other women (and men) about public speaking skills and confidence.