Questions from the audience are an integral part of most presentations and speakers should look forward to them. Questions mean that the audience is interested and wants to know more. And even if someone wants to challenge you on a point, at least it means that they were paying attention!
Many inexperienced speakers take questions at the end of their presentations. This is understandable, but it is also a mistake.
Your conclusion is one of the most important parts of your presentation. It is your final opportunity to make an impact on your audience. You should guard it fiercely and not relinquish control over it.
When you end your time on the stage in a question and answer (Q&A) format, the final impression that you leave is almost always diminished from what it might otherwise have been. This is especially so if you get questions that are off topic or meandering. The audience members start fidgeting or checking their email or even walking out.
So what to do? Not taking questions is always a possibility but rarely a good one. Depriving the audience of the opportunity to raise issues with you will frustrate some and could hurt your credibility. Fortunately, there is a simple and effective solution: Take questions just before your concluding remarks.
Suppose you have 45 minutes to give a presentation and you want to allow 10 minutes for questions. That leaves you with 35 minutes of speaking time. Here’s what you can do:
- Structure your presentation so that you cover your points in 30 minutes.
- At the 30-minute mark, say something like, “Before I leave you with my final thoughts, are there any questions?”
- Respond to any questions for the next 10 minutes.
- At the 40-minute mark, bring the Q&A session to a close.
- Offer to speak afterwards with those who didn’t get a chance to ask their questions.
- Give a powerful, memorable conclusion to your presentation.
Shifting the timing of the Q&A session by only five minutes allows you to maintain control over your conclusion. And that’s what you want.