Some speakers look forward to the interaction that comes from impromptu audience questions, while others hope to God that no one will ask them anything during their presentation. It’s always a topic we address in our seminars. So we pose the question: why do some speakers tighten up before Q&A?

From our perspective, it’s all about fear and nervousness:

  • They fear the unknown.
  • They feel unprepared.
  • Someone important or intimidating is watching them.
  • They believe someone is trying to trip them up ad make them look bad.

Q&A is actually a speaker’s best opportunity to excel, because you get to talk about your own area of expertise. We’ve seen many nervous speakers struggle with a prepared presentation, only to break through and transform themselves into wonderful speakers when they are talking off-the-cuff in response to a question. When you know your subject-as most presenters certainly do-you can do a great job.

Think about it this way-it’s really no different than when you answer your phone and a customer has a question. Do you say “Sorry, I’m not prepared right now-can I call you back?” Or do you have the confidence to trust your knowledge and give them the answer right on the spot?

“Responding to questions might be an opportunity,” you say, “but that doesn’t keep me from feeling nervous.” So here are some tips that presenters can use to prepare for success-and fight off fear-when handling questions:

  1. Do an Audience Analysis, spending some time in advance thinking about your listeners. If you’ve attended an EMS workshop, you learned that the more you know about your audience, the easier it is to anticipate what they might ask.
  2. Answer hard questions during your presentation. As you plan your content, come up with key questions or objections that you are expecting, and incorporate those answers into the body of your message.
  3. Brainstorm and practice. Once your content is set, make two lists: one of friendly questions, and another list of questions that you hope they don’t ask. Take time to practice how you’d handle all of them. (Do you think politicians prepare for the Q&A portion of a press conference? You bet they do, sometimes for days!)
  4. Bring in EMS. We often have a special Q&A module as part of our two-day workshop that will help you learn, practice and see yourself in action. Or you can schedule a special Q&A Follow-up session for you and your team.

Like presenting, questions pose opportunities, not challenges. They offer you-as a speaker-insight into what audience members are thinking, and give you a chance to share your expertise.