The Q&A is a highly debated and often feared practice associated with hosting seminars. Why? The Q&A means you’ll have to go “off script” and face difficult questions you may not know the answer to.
I am huge proponent of doing a Q&A at educational seminars. Although there are risks involved with a Q&A, I believe the benefits far outweigh them.
The risks can be minimized or eliminated with preparation and control. You may not know where to start or if this practice is for you, which is why I laid out the risks, benefits and best practices relating to Q&A sessions.
Risk #1 – A question you can’t answer on the spot.
This is a big fear, especially among newer speakers. It’s probably going to happen, so my best advice is to just relax and don’t panic! The topics you’re presenting on are complex, and no one can know everything.
You can reduce this risk by playing 20 questions. Study your presentation and develop a list of 20 possible questions that the audience may ask. This forces you to anticipate where the trouble spots may be, while also giving you confidence in your material.
Another tip is to present your material to your family or friends first. You can ask them to shoot holes in it and pepper you with questions. This will give you a good feel for how your audience will perceive your presentation.
Risk #2 – A complex question that will take too long to answer at the seminar.
Sometimes someone will ask a complicated or detailed question that is on topic. You can’t cry “foul ball” and deflect it because they are playing by the rules you established. A strategy I use is to treat these as “compound questions” by breaking them into two parts. Turn the first part into a broader, generic question about a concept or bigger picture idea that you can comfortably handle in less than one minute. The second part is the detailed segment that will require a much deeper discussion. So, you can either table it for a post-seminar conversation or a one-on-one meeting. You might say:
“This is a more complex issue than we have time to go into right now. The short answer is probably yes (or no). But there are some variables that will affect the implementation and the results of the strategy. Everyone is different, and each person’s situation needs to be considered very carefully before I can make any detailed recommendations.”
When you use the above method, you get partial credit for answering the broader part of the question, while also appearing thoughtful and introspective.
Risk #3 – A Q&A could reduce the number of appointments because you’re answering their questions without a face-to-face meeting.
Actually, I believe it’s the total opposite! Skipping the Q&A is what might be costing you appointments and business. By doing a great Q&A, you will increase both the number and quality of those critical first meetings. So, don’t let this risk stop you!
It’s very easy to mitigate or eliminate this risk with simple guidelines and control. The Q&A is where you address any basic confusion or uncertainty and deal with simple issues that don’t require a detailed discussion or thorough client due-diligence. It’s not the time to solve everyone’s deepest financial needs. That can only be done face-to-face.
Risk #4 – The Q&A could add too much time to the seminar.
The Q&A is a tight, 5 to 7-minute block of time that you must control. When answering questions, stay focused and keep your answers brief. Don’t let it turn into a long-winded session.
Also, tell the audience that after the Q&A, you’re going to have a few closing remarks and a final message. This lets them know that the Q&A is not the end of the seminar.
Risk #5 – The Q&A might open the door to people who could ruin your event.
NEVER let someone in the audience hijack your seminar. You are the expert and you are in command. If you don’t maintain control, you risk hosting an event that doesn’t help anyone.
This is especially true during the Q&A session because it’s near the end of your seminar, so you don’t have another 45 minutes to regain credibility if something goes wrong. Prepare your own set of responses just in case someone comes at you in a hostile or disruptive way. It’s better to have a few quick retorts or strategies ready and never use them, than to find yourself under attack and not armed.
Now, let’s look at the benefits of adding a Q&A to your seminar.
Benefit #1 – The Q&A enhances and cements your credibility.
Whenever you choose to speak to the public on a given topic, you are purporting to be something of an expert in that subject. One of the defining characteristics of an expert is that they are able to handle questions. In fact, most experts LOVE questions and are eager to engage the audience’s concern. So, doing a Q&A becomes living evidence of your comfort with the subject and proof of your deeper knowledge, experience and skill as a professional.
Benefit #2 – The Q&A gives the audience the chance to see you handling issues “off-script.”
It’s no secret that many presentations are heavily scripted for compliance purposes and most speakers stick closely to their PowerPoint slides and handouts. By contrast, the Q&A session is pure audience interaction. It’s a wonderful opportunity to take your talk in unexpected directions to add color and insight to your program. Audiences will admire your ability to be creative and respond on the spot. Some of the most valuable moments in a seminar may come from things you say and the concepts you teach that go beyond the slides.
Benefit #3 – The Q&A gives you a chance to focus on what’s really interesting, important or exciting to your audience.
A Q&A can help you refine your program to cover those critical elements the audience is most keen to understand. Over time you will learn which segments generate the most excitement, curiosity or even skepticism from the crowd. That information helps you strengthen your overall talk and drives the business impact of your events even higher.
Benefit #4 – The Q&A opens up the program to much more humor and fun.
People are sick of boring lectures, and the vast majority of programs are dry. The Q&A session brings the audience into the spotlight for a few minutes and creates spontaneous moments of genuine joy. Someone might say something funny and give you the chance to improvise along with them. Remember, when they’re laughing, they’re learning. So, if you really want to bond with the room, try to inject humor and fun into your seminar every chance you get!
Here are seven fundamental strategies that will make your Q&A session more effective.
- Tell your audience at the beginning of the seminar that there will be a time for questions near the end of the presentation.
- When you get a question, listen carefully and fully before answering.
- Repeat or rephrase the question before answering.
- If your program has several discreet sections that stand alone, it’s okay to do mini-Q&A’s after those segments.
- Avoid one-on-one conversations.
- Keep it tight and stick to your time limit.
- Never end your seminar on a Q&A! Do the Q&A immediately before your power close.
The Q&A session is essential to the overall success of your program. There’s no need to hide from or fear it. Instead, embrace this amazing opportunity to display your skill and bond with your audience. It takes a little effort and preparation, but you may find that no other part of the seminar has as much potential for interaction and enjoyment as a great Q&A. Nothing says “expert” more than a willingness and an ability to answer questions!
Written by: Frank Maselli
Frank is a top-rated speaker, trainer and industry consultant. He’s the author of three best-selling books and has trained tens of thousands of advisors, wholesalers and managers at nearly every firm in the industry. His keynotes and training programs address the biggest concerns advisors have, but in a modern, entertaining way. No more old-school sales pitches or boring lectures. His delivery is filled with passion, energy, relevance and tremendous humor.