How To Handle A Q&A Session During Your Presentation

Difficult questions are inevitable during presentation Q&A sessions. Some questions are unsettling because they are personal; others are hard to answer because they require a complex response. Some attendees might also use the Q&A session to challenge you on a point or express their disapproval of your perspective.

If you’ve never experienced a difficult Q&A session, watch the video below to see presenters at Minecon 2013 respond to some curveball questions.

Questions include:

–    How much money do you have?

–    How many of you have autism?

–    How do I fix my Mac computer?

In the video below, watch Bill Clinton respond to questions such as, boxers or briefs?

The videos included above are somewhat funny due to the awkwardness of the questions asked, however Q&A sessions are anything but a joke; they are serious business. How you handle a Q&A session has a major impact on the audience’s opinion of you and your presentation. If you want your presentation to be a success in the eyes of the audience, you need to be prepared to handle any and all questions that are asked of you during the Q&A session.

Here are a few tips to help you shine during your next Q&A session:

1. Prepare

Winging a Q&A session is about as good of an idea as winging your presentation. How successful do you think you would be as a presenter if you walked on stage without giving any thought to what you were going to say? Unless you’re the exception to the rule and you happen to have a knack for flying by the seat of your pants during presentations, your presentation will probably not go too well. The same goes for your Q&A session. 

There’s no way around it: You need to prepare for your Q&A session.

To prepare for the Q&A session, create a list of questions you anticipate from attendees. In addition, show your presentation to friends, family, and colleagues and ask them to pitch you their toughest questions. You should also conduct Google research using a variety of keywords that relate to your topic. Peruse the Google results, and then read articles that relate to your topic to discover questions that journalists deemed worthy of answering in their articles. I would also suggest searching specific sites such as Twitter and Quora to see what questions are being discussed on those forums.

2. Be Proactive

Once you have a list of potential questions, divide the list into two different categories:

1. Questions you can answer in your presentation.

Some of the potential questions you generate in your Q&A preparation will be indicators that there are holes in your presentation. Weave answers to those questions into the fabric of your presentation instead of leaving those questions unanswered. If you leave those big questions unanswered you’re asking for trouble.

You will probably need to revise your entire presentation outline to make the new material fit within the flow of your presentation, but don’t let that deter you. Your presentation will be significantly stronger if you do the extra work to integrate the answers into your presentation.

2. Questions you do not want to answer in your presentation.

Other questions however will not be appropriate to integrate into your presentation. For example, the questions that were asked in the Minecon 2013 video would not be appropriate to answer in your presentation. However, preparing for those types of curveball Q&A questions is still an essential task.

You will never be able to anticipate all of the awkward questions that will be asked of you during a Q&A. However the act of preparing answers for at least some potential curveball questions will help you answer unanticipated questions simply because you have mentally prepared yourself for tough questions. You will be more composed when asked awkward questions because, as a result of your preparation, you have already mentally overcome the shock that often follows unexpected, and potentially personal questions.

3. Have A Sense Of Humor

According to a study by the Bell Leadership Institute, the two most desirable traits in leaders are a strong work ethic and a good sense of humor. Remember the leadership value of humor when you’re on stage taking questions from audience members, and be prepared to crack a few jokes when appropriate.

For example, if, like in the video included above of Bill Clinton, you are asked boxers or briefs? during a Q&A session, don’t lose your cool and reprimand the audience member who asked the question. Instead, have a sense of humor about it. Give a humorous response to the answer, use humor to deflect the question, or simply laugh and smile your way through an honest response. And don’t be afraid to make fun yourself in your responseSelf-deprecating humor, the type of humor that good naturedly pokes fun at one’s self, is the most effective style of humor when it comes to persuading people, according to Putting the Ha! In Aha!: Humor as a Tool for Effective Communication, by Brandy Reece.

To keep a sense of humor, don’t worry too much about making a mistake. If you make a mistake that needs to corrected, simply communicate the accurate information and perhaps make a joke about your error, but don’t dwell on it or let it throw you off course. If you make a mistake that is relatively inconsequential, make a joke about it, or don’t acknowledge it at all. However, regardless of how you choose to handle errors, never let a mistake get you down. According to TimePeople performed best at public speaking not when they feared making mistakes or even when they were willing to forgive their own mistakes. They felt great and were rated most highly when they took a “novelty” perspective: deliberately making mistakes and then incorporating them into the presentation.

4. Exude Warmth

During your Q&A session, remember to exude warmth. Don’t let any fear of the unexpected cool your connection with the audience.

Smile naturally while listening to questions and providing responses. In addition, create vocal warmth by using a tone that suggests that you’re leveling with people – that you’re sharing the straight scoop, with no pretense or emotional adornment, suggests social psychologist Amy Cuddy.

With this quote, Amy Cuddy summarizes the value of warmth when communicating: A growing body of research suggests that the way to influence – and to lead – is to begin with warmth. Warmth is the conduit of influence: It facilitates trust and the communication and absorption of ideas.

If a question makes you angry or throws you off your game, take a moment to pause, breathe, and regain your composure. Don’t let your emotions take the reigns and lead you to an angry response. If your warmth turns cold, any connection you had developed with your audience will likely go cold as well.

6. Delay

If you get a tough question that you don’t know how to answer, don’t feel as if you need to cobble together an inadequate response immediately. Giving a weak or inaccurate answer to a question will hurt more than it will help.

To prepare for questions that cannot be answered immediately, create a slide to show during the Q&A. On the slide, list your contact information. When you get a question that requires additional research or consideration to answer, ask the audience member to contact you so you can provide an answer at a later date. Situations like this are the perfect time to demonstrate your sense of humor. When you chuckle at a question that stumps you, the audience will like you more than if you act as if your ego has been completely deflated.

The slide with your contact information will also be valuable if the Q&A session runs longer than expected. When the questions seem to be never-ending and your allotted time is nearly over, let the audience know that you need to wrap up the Q&A but that they can contact you with their questions at a later date.


Preparing for the Q&A session is an essential part of delivering a successful presentation. Since most Q&A session happen at the end of a presentation, how you perform during that time will have a lasting impact on the audience members. To end on a high note and make a final, positive impression on the audience, think through possible Q&A scenarios and develop a strategic plan for how you will handle each situation. The more prepared you are for tough questions, the more successful your presentation will be.

Additional Resources:

Why You Should Add Humor To Your Business Presentations

The Science of Influence – And What It Means For Your Presentations

The Best Way To End A Professional Presentation

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