Wednesday, October 2, 2013

@DrSalGainsbury asks: "No, seriously. What if the room is silent during Q&A?"

A couple of weeks ago, Ragan Communications reprinted my post on a common speaker's concern: What if nobody asks a question? I took the approach I usually take with issues speakers raise about what might happen during a talk or presentation: If you can anticipate it, you can plan a way to deal with it. It's a win-win. You feel better prepared, and you'll have a tactic ready when the moment arises.

But getting no questions is a strong fear for many presenters, sometimes based on experience. So when Dr. Sally Gainsbury tweeted "Good tips for prevention--but what should you do in the moment?" I decided to take another swing at it, this time focused on that occasion when you haven't planned ahead. Here's what I recommend you do in the moment when you can hear crickets more than the audience:
  1. Wait a minute.  Sometimes it takes time for an audience to warm up to its part of the speaker-audience exchange. Some speakers have that effect, making the audience think, so let them think. Pause and smile and scan the room before you assume there are no questions. Then ask again.
  2. Invite questions in a more specific way.  "I'm especially curious to hear from those of you who disagree with me, as well as those who feel the same way" or "I know there are other pros in the field here tonight. Perhaps one of them can add some perspective?" create an opening for a particular type of question or feedback. 
  3. Ask a question of your own. If you've been overly thorough, you may have left the impression there's nothing left to ask--but I'll bet you have a few questions of your own about your topic. So put them out there. "One thing I've wondered about all this is [insert your question]? Can any of you enlighten me?"
  4. Ask the audience a question. This is the perfect time to get the ball rolling yourself. How many people disagreed with you? How many agree? Whose mind was changed? Who's going to leave the room and act on this information, and how?
  5. Invite one-on-one questions. Not every audience is loaded with extroverts. If you're not getting public questions, audience members may be holding back for a reason like a controversial topic or a fear of speaking in front of a group. If it's clear no one will step forward, say, "Let me thank you all again for your attention. I'll be here if anyone wants to ask me questions one-on-one" and sit down.
Let me also invite readers: What do you do when there aren't any questions? I'll sit down now and let you share.