At best, live Q & A provides attendees with a memorable recap of what they learned, and an opportunity to expand on that knowledge for their own personal interests. At worst, it’s a total flop- the speaker either drones on too long or doesn’t say enough, participation is weak, or people are shouting over one another in a buzzing crowd.
Our take? Because it sums up a bulk of information and answers individual questions, having a Q & A session at the end of an event is well worth it. That is, if it’s done right. Remember, a Q & A session is likely your attendees last impression of you, so it’s more than just a recap of the main event. It’s a productive opportunity for attendees to benefit individually from your event, interact with each other, and learn more about you as a company. We present you with the most comprehensive guide to successful Q & A’s you can find anywhere! Here are the biggest do’s and don’ts for making the most of your next Q & A session.
DO Choose a Format and Stick with It
What is the best format for your session? It depends largely on the size of your group and the nature of your content. If you’ve got a smaller group- or your Q & A is part of a breakout session- you can give your attendees more control over the agenda. Simply break them into even smaller groups and allow them to share their thoughts, ideas, and opinions with each other prior to the Q & A. This not only helps them to be better prepared, but facilitates networking, stimulates creativity, and promotes teamwork for problem solving.
Attendees can also take this time to jot down any further questions they may have, and list areas in which they would like to expand their knowledge. Organizing their thoughts before a Q & A allows them to get the most of the session. It also gives them the opportunity to articulate questions and thoughts before sharing them. The clearer the shared ideas, the better everyone understands and relates to them. Again, zeroing in on specific aspects of a topic facilitates networking within niches. Attendees meet other professionals in their niche and brainstorm with them.
If you’ve got a larger group, the Harvard Business Review suggests vetting questions. Break people up into smaller groups and ask them to identify some good questions as a group. This is one way of satisfying a majority of people in your audience. With all formats, Harvard also suggests opening up your Q and A session to reactions as well as questions. Not everyone feels confident phrasing their more complicated questions, and they may feel self-conscious or afraid of being misunderstood. You can put them at ease at the start by letting them know you are welcome both questions and reactions to the content shared at your event.
Harvard Business Review also recommends what is known as the Inverse Q & A. the presenter asks a question, and attendees discuss it with someone nearby. We don’t necessarily recommend using this format alone unless your guests have submitted questions prior to the session. (That’s also an option; you can ask your guests to submit one to three questions each after a specific session, and then read the most relevant, universal questions aloud during Q & A.
What the Inverse Q & A does accomplish is stimulating the critical thinking process and communication among attendees. It inspires people to brainstorm together to get a clearer idea of 1) what they really want to know and 2) what valuable information, skills, and resources they can take home from your event.
Do Use Confident Body Language
Body language reflects your emotions- or it reflects the ones you’re trying to project, and if you try too hard, you come off as insincere. 93% of communication is nonverbal, so it’s safe to say that body language speaks louder than words. We know what you may be thinking- if I’m not confident, shouldn’t I still project confidence with my body language?
In a word, yes! But use your body language as a tool to help make you feel more confident. Don’t think of it as acting confident, think of it as being confident. And lean into the things that do make you feel that way. For example, if you have public speaking anxiety but really know your stuff, use your knowledge to lift you out of your anxiety. When you really know your subject and have experience to back it up, people can tell. They’ll listen to your words, ask questions, and you’ll be too busy answering them to remember how scared you were in the first place.
It can be helpful to think of today’s public speaking as a conversation facilitated by a presenter. Q & A’s in particular are meant to be less presentational, and more interactive. Now more than ever, consumers want to buy from brands who are humanized, whose values are aligned with theirs, and who genuinely have their best intentions in mind. They don’t want ideas shoved down their throats- they want to think for themselves. So let them.
It’s okay to allow your human side to shine through. Just control your anxiety so it doesn’t get the best of you. For example, if you tend to fidget when you speak publicly, consciously take moments to be still and listen to your audience. Don’t be afraid to take well-placed pauses to understand questions before answering. (This is especially important when there is a question that is meant to trip you up). Take your time and process the question in order to answer it more thoroughly- and be prepared for those meant to find holes in your logic. If you take a pause and think of the best way to answer honestly, you’ll maintain your professionalism- and your audience’s trust.
DO Go Live
It’s pretty standard for events to go live at some point during their lifespan, but should you live stream your Q & A? Just like you’d want to summarize the key points of your conference or event for your live guests, you’d want to give virtual guests the same closure. Right? Remember, the Q & A isn’t just a wrap-up- it’s an opportunity to ask questions that benefit smaller niches and the individual. For you, it’s a chance to humanize your brand and generate leads at the same time.
Fortunately for event planners, live streaming is easier and more accessible than ever. You can use inexpensive live streaming software, Vimeo, YouTube, Facebook Live, or any other popular channel. If you have a large Instagram following, you may also want to post your Q & A session to your stories. (For those of you who have been living under a cardboard box or just don’t post your entire life online in snippets, Instagram “stories” are small clips that can be edited and linked together in sequence. These stories are easy to create within minutes, and allow you to superimpose graphics or words over the screen to emphasize certain questions or points).
According to Wyzowl’s State of Video Marketing Survey, 68% of people prefer video as a tool to learn about products, and 87% of marketers prefer video as a marketing channel. That’s a pretty staggering statistic, and more than enough impetus to live stream your next Q & A.
Also, consider spicing up your Q & A session with an interview with an industry leader or influencer. This not only adds an extra layer of expertise, but also gives guests the impression that they’re “learning from the best”, which they are. Live stream interviews have led to success for top brands like Airbnb, Disney, and Cisco, who continually live streams Q & A sessions with internal specialists. Doing this has helped establish them as an industry leader over a brief period of time.
DO Closing Remarks
Closing remarks are important! In fact, they can make or break the entire session or event, and it’s easy to see why. There are a lot of variables at Q & A sessions, and discourse can take some unpredictable turns. That’s why it’s important to sum it all up in a neat but memorable way. Harvard Business Review recommends concluding the session with a final anecdote or example that stands out in guests’ minds after they leave. It could have a comical or ironic twist, or it can simply drive home the most powerful point you want to make. Maybe it’s both. We also recommend closing with a powerful call to action that inspires guests to use your products or services.
Q & A sessions are great ways for businesses to make a personal impression on their customer base. These opportunities help build relationships that can only be formed through direct interaction. Which leads us to another primary concern: the speaker.
DO Hire the Best Keynote Speaker for Your Event
Notice we said, “Hire the best speaker for your event”, not the best speaker in general. If your q & A will be led by your keynote speaker, that speaker’s abilities and compatibility with your audience takes on even more importance. Yes, every good speaker has some traits and skills in common, which we go into more depth about in previous articles. A speaker should be engaging, interactive, and have excellent listening skills. Guests want to feel as if they’re being heard- not just tuning into a business celebrity on a pedestal who isn’t accessible to them. Obviously, you want a speaker who can both entertain and inform. Speakers should also be able to inspire a call to action that inspires guests to use your products or services, as well as attend your events in the future.
That said, the best speaker for your event depends largely on your objectives. What are your key goals for the event? What do you want to accomplish? It may be to raise money for a cause, inspire and motivate, entertain, stimulate change, or just get your audience to think critically about something. Depending on background and experience, different speakers can better help you accomplish your objectives. References, past history, and direct interaction with potential speakers can give you a fuller picture of what they’ll bring to the table.
Just be sure that your keynote speakers are aligned with your brand and the message you want to convey. Their own objectives for the event should be compatible with yours, and it should be clear how you plan to be beneficial for each other. Flexibility is an important quality for speakers or presenters to have; it means they have the ability to compromise or problem solve to best meet both your objectives.
If your speakers are going to be presenting Q&A, have them present you with an outline for how they will handle and format this part of your event. Ask them how they will adapt to any unexpected turn of events, such as a topic veering too far in one specific direction or loss of attention from members of the audience. Remember, human interaction is fluid in nature; thoughts, feelings, body language, and facial expressions are constantly shifting or in flux. It is likely that some of the audience’s attention will wander somewhat throughout the session; that’s normal. It’s impossible to please everyone, all at once, at the same time! But speakers have to be perceptive enough to notice when they’re losing audience members, and adjust to engage them again. Keeping the group connected as a whole and attending to individuals is a precarious balance, but an important one to maintain.
Do Stick to the Time Limit
During a really inspired session, it can be natural to want to go over the time limit to accommodate everyone. Going one or two minutes past the limit isn’t worrisome- even five can be okay. But when you’ve extended the session up to ten minutes past time, you’ll be surprised to find how much of your key points get lost in the information overload. Did you know that most of us retain only 10% of what we learned at conferences after we get home? That’s why it’s so imperative not to deviate too far from the key points you want your guests to remember.
Yes, you want to personalize the session to reach individuals and smaller groups and answer their questions. But to avoid going over time, know when to start closing the session (or make sure your presenter does).
Even if you covered a lot and made excellent headway, you may find that there are a lot more unanswered questions. Don’t be discouraged- this is actually a good sign! It means that you managed to engage your audience, and their interest is sustained. As you should be doing anyway, create a way for your audience to continue the discussion with you and each other. Ask them to follow a specific hashtag on Instagram and/or Twitter to keep the conversation going.
DON’T Deviate from Your Original Presentation Style
We covered the “Do’s”, now let’s get to the “Don’ts”. One of the key mistakes to avoid is changing up the presentation format during the session. We’ve all been there. The session really heats up in the middle, and in their excitement, guests override the existing format by shouting out or branching out into separate discussions. It can be tempting to give them total control of the agenda, but don’t.
Instead, acknowledge that their enthusiasm is great, but make a minor adjustment rather than change up the whole format. For example, if you seem to be getting a lot of side conversations, stop taking individual questions, and organize people into groups. Then take questions from small groups instead of individuals. Or vice versa, if your groups don’t seem to be cohesive and arguing or confusion ensues, give them a brief break to regroup. Or you can ask each group to write one question, and give them a specific time frame to do so. The questions may not be perfect, but they will be more articulate, and lead to discussions that answer everyone’s questions (or almost everyone’s).
Making adjustments is appropriate and necessary. But changing up the entire format midway just confuses and disconnects your audience. Some might have really liked the original format, and when you change it dramatically, you divide the group.
Also, make sure you keep the same energy you had during the entire event (or make sure your speaker/ moderator does). We know how easy it can be to become drained and lethargic after a long day of moderating an event, never mind the months that went into planning it! But keep your energy up just a little bit longer. The Q&A is your guests’ final impression of you, so it’s the one that lasts.
DON’T Repeat Questions Too Often
Anyone who has ever moderated a Q & A session has done it. An audience member asks a question, and we repeat it to give ourselves time to formulate an answer. This is okay to do every once in a while, but don’t make it a noticeable habit. If you repeat questions too often, it will seem like you’re fumbling to answer. And if you’re not sure you understood the question, don’t just ask the guest to repeat it. Instead, say something like, “Let’s consider what you’ve asked”, and rephrase it to be sure you understood. This way, the person who asked the question has a chance to clarify if there was anything you didn’t understand properly.
When is it okay to repeat a question? Sometimes the volume gets louder than optimal, and you have to ask someone to repeat a question. The acoustics of a room have a lot to do with how well you can hear, too- especially if you’re in a larger space. If the person who asked a question is going on and on without making a real point or asking a clear question, you can ask them to sum up what they want to know in one phrase. Start with something like, “Just to make sure we’re on the same page, is this what you’re asking?” Then repeat or rephrase their question to reflect your understanding of it.
DON’T Turn Your Q & A into a Debate
Let’s be clear: It’s a Q & A, not a professional debate- although with some particularly stubborn guests, you’d never know it. Most, if not all, presenters occasionally encounter a guest who insists on deviating from the format to argue a point or dissect one detail into pieces. If and when this happens, it’s important to make the askee feel heard and respected, but not lose the focus or patience of the rest of the group. You can say something like, “It seems like we have two different perspectives, and I’d like to learn more about yours after the session.” Or, “I’d like the opportunity to discuss this further, but in the interest of time, let’s do it afterward.” You can also remind people how you can be reached directly, and that the discussion can be continued online using a specific hashtag.
It’s unlikely that you are going to satisfy a debate during the limited time space of a Q & A. More importantly, you risk losing the group by trying to satisfy the individual. That said, inviting the individual to continue the conversation outside is usually enough to pacify everyone- and take control of the session as the presenter.
DON’T Let Unexpected Turns Throw You Off Course
Expect the unexpected. Most audience members will ask questions because they genuinely want answers, but there will always be that odd challenger who wants to throw you off. Maybe they want to look smarter and make you look dumber or less prepared. Whatever their motive, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you answer the question honestly and don’t let your emotions detract from your professionalism.
It can help to be prepared by writing down a list of difficult questions you may be asked. Some questions will be more complicated and harder to answer than others. So don’t shy away from or get defensive about questions that you don’t have definite answers to. Simply use the knowledge you do have to answer them as thoroughly as possible. Questions about future trends and statistics can be particularly tricky- no one has definitive answers for those. But you can share predictions based on current knowledge and statistics.
Ready, Set, Go!
Now that you know what to do- and what not to do- you’re ready to host your best Q & A yet. Just remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect- it just has to be the three C’s: Comprehensive, cohesive, and communicative.