Managing Audience Questions

Read these tips on how to prepare for and handle the question-and-answer section of your presentation.

Preparing for a Q&A Session

Spend time anticipating potential questions and preparing responses to them ahead of time; work with colleagues or friends to practice.

Key Takeaways

  • If you are speaking directly to a live audience, you can allocate time at the end of the presentation answer questions.
  • You can solicit questions before, during, or after the event via Twitter or SMS, or create a a "backchannel" display during or following the presentation.
  • You can anticipate questions that will be asked and prepare responses ahead of time.
  • You can set up a Twitter hashtag for the audience to tweet questions during the presentation.
  • You can provide a number or address for SMS texting during the speech so you can respond to questiosn during or after the presentation.
  • You can create a "backchannel" for projecting tweets or text messages during or after the presentation to create a truly global interactive experience.

Key Terms

  • Tweet: (noun) An entry posted on the microblogging service, Twitter; can be a post or status update; (verb) to post an update to Twitter.
  • Hashtag: A tag embedded in a message posted on the Twitter microblogging service, consisting of a word within the message prefixed with a hash sign.
  • Backchannel: the practice of using networked computers to maintain a real-time online conversation alongside live spoken remarks.

Questions and Answers with In-person and Remote Audiences

Questions and Answers ( Q&A ) is a part of many speaking events. During Q&A the audience can ask questions and the speaker(s) will answer the questions. Although questions could occur at any time during the event, traditionally Q&A occurs at the end of the speech.

If you are speaking directly to a live audience, you can allocate time at the end of the presentation to answer questions. You may have audience members stand or move to a microphone to ask a question. Or, if you have a large audience or remote audience, you can solicit questions before, during or after the speech via Twitter or SMS, or create a "backchannel" to display questions at any time during or following the presentation.


Rehearsing for Q&A

You can never anticipate all the questions of audience members may have. But you can anticipate some questions and prepare a response ahead of time.

An image that has the outlines of two men as well as multiple question markets. It says "Question mark man" at the bottom

Preparing for a Q&A: It is important for a speaker to rehearse for a Q&A session. Try to anticipate questions and prepare responses beforehand.

Audience members are likely to ask the following types of questions: 

  • To find out information from an expert: You are perceived to be the expert on your topic and the audience may ask a question to find out additional information.

  • For clarification: You may have presented an explanation but an audience member may need additional clarification to fully understand the idea.

  • Interested and want more: You may have piqued the interest of an audience member with something you said and the audience member will ask a question to find out more, or for a follow-up resource.

  • Agree or disagree with opinion: You may have stated an opinion and the audience member either wants you to agree or disagree with related opinions or a course of action.

  • How to do something: You may have convinced the audience that your opinion is right. Now the audience wants to know what course of action to take as follow-up.

Prepare possible answers to these types of questions and rehearse with a colleague or coach before the speech.

Receiving Questions Prior to the Speech or Using Backchannels

  • Email: You can solicit questions prior to or during the speech by creating a unique email address such as You can include answers during the speech or collect them for a Q&A period at the end.

  • Twitter: You can create a unique hashtag on Twitter for the event, such as #myspeech1212. You can use the hashtag as a backchannel during the presentation, or to collect questions to be answered at the end. When audience members add the hashtag to their tweets, the speaker or attendees can search Twitter to review all the tweets related to that event. A colleague can collect the questions so that you and the audience are not distracted.

  • Tweets are publicly visible by default; however, you can restrict message delivery to just your followers. Your audience can tweet via the Twitter website, by compatible external applications, or by Short Message Service (SMS). You can also display all the questions with your event hashtag using TweetDeck. TweetDeck will allow you to receive and display tweets, is compatible with most operating systems, and can be installed as a smart phone app.

Using any or all of these methods to solicit and answer questions allows you to create a direct interactive experience with your global audience.

Conducting a Q&A Session

Q&A occurs at the end of an in-person speech or at any point in time with larger, remote audiences using Twitter, SMS texting, or email.

Key Takeaways

  • Often after giving a presentation, you will be called upon to personally conduct a question and answer ( Q&A ) session in which the audience will ask questions for you to answer.
  • Make sure you understand the question. To check for understanding, paraphrase the question and ask for confirmation. If you do not understand the question, ask for clarification.
  • Repeat the questions for those in the audience who may not have heard it and answer it directly and succinctly while looking at the audience or web cam.
  • If you have prepared for Twitter questions using your #hashtag, SMS contact, or email, you can create a direct interactive experience with all parts of your global audience prior, during, or at the end of the speech.
  • In general, you want to collect the questions for a Q&A session at the end or have a cohort monitor the questions as they are posted to select the ones for you to answer.
  • You may project the tweets or texts using a projection system for a large audience and a shared screen for the remote audiences while you conduct the Q&A session.

Key Terms

  • Q&A: A period of time in which questions are asked of a person.

Q&A can Occur In-Person or via Internet

Question and answer sessions (Q&A) can take different formats. You might answer questions after your speech or presentation if you have a live co-located audience. Members of the audience may stand to speak or walk to a microphone. If you are speaking to a large audience or a remote audience, you may use various digital methods to solicit questions to answer at the end of your presentation. Let's look at approaches to conducting a Q&A with live audiences and with large or remote audiences using Twitter, short message service (SMS) text messages, or email.

Damage Controlman 3rd Class Mark Gorley asks Adm. Gary Roughead a question during a Q&A session

In-Person Q&A: An audience member uses a microphone and leads a Q&A session.

Q&A with Small Audience Co-located with Speaker

Often after giving a presentation you will be called upon to answer questions from the audience. Q&A sessions can be quite intimidating, but if you have thoroughly researched your topic and have anticipated the types of questions you might receive, you will be better able to handle anything you are asked.

Photo of a man in an audience asking a question

Q&A with a Small Audience: A student stands among a small audience and asks a question.

Here are some guidelines for handling Q&A sessions:

  • Stop to think about the question before answering.
  • Make sure you understand the question. To check for understanding, paraphrase the question and ask for confirmation. For example: "Are you asking why we propose a 2% annual increase or how we estimate that this increase will match increases in the cost of living?"
  • If you did not understand the question, ask for clarification. For example: "I do not understand what you mean by total compensation package."
  • Repeat the questions for those in the audience who may not have heard it. For example: "The question is, 'What raises do we expect to propose over the next 5 years?'"
  • Do not let the questions move you off topic. For example: "I appreciate your concern over profit-sharing with beneficiaries, but today's focus is on investor relations."
  • Answer directly and succinctly. Tell them what you know, why you believe it, or what you believe. If you do not have answer, tell them so or volunteer to find out the information and provide the answer at a later time. For example: "I did not hear the President's comment about eliminating unions. My understanding is that she is committed to union participation. I will check the minutes from that meeting and send you an answer, if you provide your email address."
  • Look at the questioner as you answer the question, but still present the answer to the whole audience.
  • If the questioner starts to give a counter speech, politely interrupt and ask for his or her question. For example: "Thank you for your concern, but we only have time for one more question. Do you have a specific question I can answer?"
  • After answering, check with the questioner to determine whether you answered the question to his or her satisfaction. For example: "Did I address your concerns?"

Using the Internet for a Q&A

If you have prepared for Twitter questions using your #hashtag, SMS contact, or email, you can create a direct interactive experience with all parts of your global audience.

  • In general, you want to collect the questions for a Q&A session at the end rather than displaying the questions as they occur.
  • You may have a cohort monitor the questions and select the ones to answer.
  • You may also want to display the questions with TweetDeck. TweetDeck's interface consists of a series of customizable columns, which can be set up to display tweets.
  • You may project the tweets using a projection system or a shared screen for the remote audience.
  • You may also arrange an "open" question period prior to the speech in order to solicit relevant questions.
  • If you are concerned about privacy, you may want to restrict the questions on Twitter to followers. Tweets are publicly visible by default; however, senders can restrict message delivery to just their followers. Users can tweet via the Twitter website, compatible external applications (such as for smartphones), or by SMS text messages.
  • Again, make sure to look at the audience or the webcam when answering the question. You may also make sure to display contact information for follow-up questions if you are willing to respond to questions for a period of time.

Finally, as the speaker you will be responsible for time management. How many questions will you answer and how much time will you devote to them? You may want to make arrangements for a follow-up exchange after the formal presentation in a forum, blog, or via email.

A series of three question marks in a red octagon, which resembles a stop sign

Think before Answering: It is important for the speaker to stop and think about the question before answering.

Q&A Considerations in Non-Academic Environments

The key to a successful Q&A session is effective communication with the audience.

Key Takeaways

  • Prepare for the Q&A session by anticipating likely questions and drafting answers to those questions.
  • When leading a Q&A session, repeat each question loudly and clearly to make sure everyone in the audience hears the discussion.
  • If someone asks a question based on information that is unfamiliar, do not be afraid to ask for more details about the context of the question.

Key Terms

  • layman: A person who is untrained or lacks knowledge of a subject.
  • neophyte: A novice or recent convert.

Q&A Considerations in Non-Academic Environments

Question and answer sessions are unpredictable and, for many speakers, intimidating. The Q&A leaves the prepared script behind and enters uncharted territory, demanding quick thinking and flexibility. After all of the careful planning that goes into preparing a speech, the loss of control in the Q&A session can be frustrating. However, it is possible to prepare for a variety of Q&A scenarios.

Preparing for the Q&A

A speaker cannot predict every question, but he or she can identify likely questions and prepare responses in advance. As part of the speechwriting process, make a list of potential questions and answers.

The following are a few tips for anticipating questions and drafting answers:

  • Fortify Key Terms and Concepts: Identify any terms, concepts or acronyms in the speech that might cause confusion or disagreement in the audience. Always define key terms and concepts in the speech, unless the audience is a homogeneous group of specialists. However, even specialists may disagree on basic definitions; if there is any controversy surrounding a foundational term or concept, be prepared to take sides or explain why the controversy does not affect your issue.

  • Prepare for Basic Questions: When speaking to an audience with mixed levels of expertise, be prepared for questions about basic principles and concepts. The assumptions and truths that speakers take for granted may not be obvious to beginners. Sometimes, basic questions are actually the hardest questions to answer. Most people are so used to the status quo that explaining why they think the way they do can be difficult.

  • Cater to Mixed Audiences: If a specialist asks a complex question in a mixed audience, do not leave the neophytes in the dust. Begin by explaining the question in layman's terms. Then give an answer on the specialist's level, followed by a "translation" that extracts something meaningful for less-knowledgeable audience members.

  • Investigate Related Issues: Basic research about issues related to the topic may help speakers prepare for unexpected questions. Here are some questions that pinpoint logical expansions of an issue: How does the issue work in other places? How did the issue work in the past? How might it work in the future? Has the definition or common conception of the issue changed over time? How do other issues affect the issue? Is the issue connected to any controversies? Are any of the speech's positions unconventional or controversial?

  • Prepare for Time Constraints: Are there any points that the speech passes over quickly due to time constraints? Be prepared to expand on those points, because they are likely targets for audience questions.

Leading a Successful Q&A

To help the Q&A session run smoothly, communicate effectively with the audience.

Two men sit in an audience and one man has his hands raised to ask a question

Audience: You want the audience to be engaged during your speech. Encourage them to ask questions at the end. 

The following techniques will help the audience stay with you:

  • Announce the Q&A session early on to give the audience time to prepare questions. Say something like, "I look forward to answering your questions after I explain my main points".
  • Repeat each question loudly and clearly before answering. If the audience cannot hear the question, they will not understand the answer.
  • To take a moment to think about a question, stall with a phrase like, "That is an interesting question". Be careful with this tactic, though – if the speaker praises one question too much, the other audience members may feel insulted if he or she does not give their questions equal praise.
  • If someone asks a yes-or-no question, keep the answer simple. Otherwise, try to say something beyond a curt one-word answer. Do not give the impression of dismissing audience members or discouraging questions.
  • There is no such thing as a bad question. This may not actually be true, but public speakers should pretend it is! Do not embarrass anyone asking a question; it could create a negative atmosphere in which others are too uncomfortable to ask questions.

The Unfamiliar Question

Many speakers get flustered when an unfamiliar question comes up. Public speakers should prepare so they do not panic if someone asks this type of question. It is impossible to read every paper or know every name that may come up. Speakers who accept that fact can make unfamiliar questions work in their favor by demonstrating humility and interest in learning new things; do not forget that speakers are allowed to ask questions too! Furthermore, in the case of unfamiliar material, the questioner may be relying on false information or unfounded assumptions, and it would be a mistake to accept the information without understanding the context.

Controversial or Unconventional Questions

If someone asks a question that relies on inappropriate ideas or assumptions, the speaker should find a polite way to distance him- or herself from that perspective before answering the question. Otherwise, the audience may assume the speaker shares the questioner's offensive opinion.

Source: Lumen Learning,
Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 License.

Last modified: Wednesday, September 23, 2020, 3:41 PM