When you reach the end of your presentation, it’s likely you’ll gaze out into the audience and customarily ask if there are any questions. If you’re met only with blank stares and dead quiet, it can feel like your credibility is plummeting rapidly.
Presentation Designers on Q&A Silence
It’s disheartening to put so much time and effort into creating a slick presentation, only to find that no-one in the audience is willing to tender questions or discussion points.
Q&A radio silence can make for an awkward and embarrassing end to an otherwise effective talk. But whether you’re delivering a conference session or corporate presentation, there are techniques you can use to regain control of such a situation – or to circumvent it in the first place. Our presentation designers have laid out some of the most useful approaches below.
Firstly, Don’t Panic
Should no hands go up when you pose the question, it’s important that you don’t panic. Understand that a lack of questions doesn’t mean that your presentation was a flop. Your audience might just need more time to absorb information fully, but often it’s just a case of breaking the ice to get things moving from one dynamic to another.
So don’t let a lack of questions throw you off your stride – instead, maintain your cool and have a game plan for this turn of events.
Reiterate Your Main Points
Whatever you do, don’t skip straight to closing with a weak ‘thank you for listening’ – no matter how close your presentation is to the lunch break. Try succinctly summarising the main points you want to get across so that desired takeaways are fresh in your audience’s minds.
And always have some next steps prepared for your audience. Deliver the best call to action you possibly can: think about what you want your audience to do next with the information you’ve given them and provide incentives for them to do it.
On this point, professional speaker and author Brian Tracy emphasises the importance of driving home your CTA instruction: ‘Whatever you say, imagine an exclamation point at the end. As you approach the conclusion, pick up your energy and tempo […] it should be perfectly clear to them what you are requesting.’ For more tips from Brian, visit his blog here.
Bring Your Own
A good idea is to have some of your own ‘common questions’ ready, should none be raised by the audience right away. Use these as a way to reinforce messaging, seating it in proper real-world context that your audience can relate to.
You can field something like ‘one question I often get asked about X is…’ then proceed to give a strategic answer. You’ll give your audience another chance to recognise the value in your message, and you may even yield some inquisitive responses by the time you conclude.
Frame it Differently
Chances are, when writing your presentation, you’ll be able to anticipate what the hot-button issues are going to be. If you receive no questions, be proactive in getting your audience talking about the topics you expect will matter most to them.
Pick out a couple of people in the first few rows and ask them about their situations and the challenges that they face, bringing their responses back to your main topic. Like in sales and marketing, your audience members only care about themselves – so work to show them how what you’re saying directly relates to their goals and fears.
Once you begin asking your audience for their input, you’ll soon find that the back-and-forth morphs into a more fluid discussion.
Respond to Questions Throughout
You can eliminate the requirement for a formal Q&A altogether by making it clear that you’re happy to respond to questions as you go. Doing so will make your presentation interactive and enable audience members to engage with your material on a much deeper level. Their direct involvement will also mean that they’ll be better at remembering what you said after the fact.
However, this approach isn’t without its risks; pausing to address queries can fragment the natural flow of information, while irrelevant questions can drag your presentation off-topic. Carefully consider how these factors might affect your presentation messaging before deciding to go this route.
Collect During, Address After
Whether you should respond to questions throughout your presentation or dedicate time at the end really depends on your message, topic and the type of audience that you’re addressing. It’s up to you to make the educated decision on which is the best fit.
Thanks to ubiquity of mobile devices, there are now ways you can easily gather questions while you speak – without having to stop.
As we mentioned in our tips for using social media in presentations, you can create your own hashtag on Twitter and encourage audience members to tweet you questions using it. That way, at the end of your presentation you’ll already have some questions available to get the ball rolling.
Or why not ask the event organiser to look into a live Q&A tool. Our presentation designers recommend Sli.do, which enables speakers to crowdsource the best qualified questions submitted during your presentation.
If you don’t receive any questions straight away, just relax. Use the above techniques to drive the conversation with your audience forward; once a few discussion points have been raised, exchanges will feel more natural and people will be more likely to get involved.
Get a lot of questions during Q&As but find it hard to answer the toughest ones? Check out our presentation designers’ secrets for handling difficult presentation questions.