Keeping Control of the Q&A

Learn to handle loaded questions, negative comments, multi-part questions, and more.

Lisa B. Marshall
4-minute read
Episode #14

Listener Bonnie Taylor from San Antonio, TX writes:

I know rehearsal is key to sounding natural in delivery of the scripted material, but what about the scary part...when you have to ask "What questions do you have?" That part sometimes doesn't go so smoothly for me, even when I'm prepared with some of the frequently asked questions or provided supplemental talking points. How can I prepare more effectively and keep folks on-topic so that part doesn’t become a free-for-all?

Thanks, Bonnie, for listening to the show and thank you for your question. You’re not alone. Many people feel confident with the main part of their presentation, but often feel less than prepared when it comes to the question and answer session. However, allowing the audience to ask questions is a great way to clarify and reinforce your message. It can also leave a great impression of your ability to think on your feet, if you handle it well.

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So How Do You Ensure a Successful Q&A Session?

As you already mentioned, good preparation begins by reviewing commonly asked questions. However, more importantly, you should also prepare for the difficult questions. Depending on the content, they may be obvious, but other times they might not be so clear. The best advice I can give you is to think about the parts of the main presentation that might have a negative impact on your audience but also be sure to think about the parts of the presentation that make you uncomfortable. It’s both of these areas that require extra attention.

Diffuse Loaded Questions

Try to anticipate the tough questions and prepare your responses ahead of time. Work with a colleague. In some cases you may want to have an extra slide prepared or even invite someone to join you for the presentation, if necessary. 

Try to anticipate the tough questions and prepare your responses ahead of time.

For sure, you’ll want to practice diffusing loaded questions. At times, these questions do include legitimate concerns that should be addressed, but it is very important not to react emotionally to a loaded question.

For example, you might be asked, “How long will it take to learn the new system, we are already short staffed. There’s no way we can do our regular jobs and devote time to learning something new.” You’ll need to diffuse the situation, in this case, by having a plan of action. You might say, “We agree that we’ll need to free up time to learn the system, and here are the steps we are planning.” Again, thinking about potentially loaded questions ahead of time allows you to prepare and plan action steps.

At times, a question might just require you to diffuse it and move on. For example, if someone asks, “Do you enjoy delivering bad news?” you could say something like, “This news is difficult for everyone. Do you have a specific question?” Again, the key is to not react.


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.