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Dealing with Q&A like a pro

Written by Maurice Hellemons


Questions are seen as a sign that your listeners are interested. The interaction makes your presentation livelier. What to do to encourage your listeners to ask (more) questions? First be aware that your listeners want to feel save and not look like an idiot in front of their peers or manager. Opening up for questions with..

                “Are there any questions?”                

                “If there are any questions, feel free to..”

.. might imply that they may not be that smart to have a question regarding this presentation. They may feel that they are the only one that didn’t get it the first time and now they have to raise their hand to show that to their peers.

How to do this better?
I. Summarize
II. Start with ‘What’.

                So, “We just covered topic ABC. What are your questions about ABC?”

What.. implies you expect there to be questions. It feels like you are saying that there were a lot of questions last week, so WHAT are your questions this week. Do you feel the subtle difference?

Also don’t expect there to be (a lot of) questions if you open up with;

                “If there aren’t any questions we can continue with..”                

                (or worse) “If there are no (more) questions we can go to lunch/ the break/ the bar/ the snacks.”

He who opens his mouth is stealing valuable time (or the cold beer or hot snacks) from the rest of the audience. Only the strong will do that. So...”We covered ABC. What are your questions about ABC?” and then WAIT 6 seconds. Your listeners need those 6 seconds to process the opportunity, come up with a question, evaluate if it is a reasonable question and to raise their finger and find courage to ask the question out loud. If that silence feels like a century then take a sip of water and wait.

Even better is to stand still to show confidence and have your arms open and a little forward to include all your listeners. Show the palm of your hands and look around friendly to show you welcome questions.

Now two things can happen:

A.      The questions are dropping in or

B.      Still no questions.


A. The questions are dropping in

Say:        “Thanks for your question.”

with a little smile on your face.  It shows respect.
“Thanks..” is a better response than “Good question!” as “Good question!” can become rather boring rather quickly after a few times. What about bad, stupid and irrelevant questions? Are you going to say good question then as well or stay honest and change your response to “that is a redundant/stupid question”. No!

“Thanks for your question..” is always a good first reply.


Always repeat the question

After “Thanks..”, repeat every question to show respect and to make sure everyone has heard and understood the question. It also gives you a few more seconds to order your own thoughts and to be more certain you are going to answer the question as intended.

  • “So, you are referring to..?”                
  • “To be sure I understand your question..”                
  • “Ah, you want to know more about.. “


Time to answer the question

Be aware of the time and try to keep answering a question under a minute. If you need a lot longer than either make it shorter and let them come back afterwards for more insights or directly defer it to afterwards to give more attention to this question then and continue with the next question.  Do this especially if the question is less relevant to other members in your audience.

When you are going to answer the question focus your attention more and more on the entire audience and not the questioner alone as the response need to have value for everyone. First get everyone’s attention again.

  • The question Michael raises here affects most of you too                
  • Michael’s question is very important                
  • Pay attention, as I am certain others need further clarification on this topic as well.  

When a question is relevant for everyone and you want to answer the question, you can take these few simple steps:

1)      Keep the first answer as short as possible: “Yes” or “No”, ”April 16”, “2012”, “in april 2024”

2)      Provide some evidence, facts or stories why you answer is, as previously stated.

3)      Repeat the answer. “That’s why I think it will be (Yes or No, January, 2012, in april 2019)

4)      Ask for confirmation: ”Did that answer your question?” 

  • If Yes, move on to the next question or topic;
  • If No, see if you want to defer or get into this topic a little deeper.

B.      Still no questions

But what about if you are well prepared and you have followed all suggestions as mentioned above and still there are no questions from the audience... none. Then what?
Here are 9 ideas how to really open them up for questions;

  • You can ask yourself a question. “The question that I had when I heard about this for the first time was … “;
  • You can ask a colleague/ a business partner or even someone from a larger audience to ask an upfront discussed and agreed upon question. This gives you the opportunity to formulate a clear and concise answer and show how much you welcome more questions;
  • You can refer to questions you got last week or during the last summit or from one of your main customers;
  • Let a moderator or the host ask you some questions that he/she came up with;


Sometimes the audience only needs a sheep to cross the dam first and then the rest will follow.


  • Let the audience ask questions during or after your speech using twitter and a certain #hashtag. Show all questions for instance on a video wall;
  • Let them ask questions not directed to you but to the moderator. The moderator can find and share the best questions first as well as summarize or combine questions;
  • Let them send questions before your speech to you, the moderator or the organization;
  • You might tell them to write down their questions during your speech.  Now turn to your neighbor and discuss your main questions. They get the change to formulate the question correctly, rehearse and get feedback if the question will resonate. Then ask the audience again what their questions are regarding topic ABC.
  • Announce you are going to open up for question in 1 minute. Give them a minute to discuss with anyone around them to come up with any questions they have. He who asks the question will probably be more comfortable with public speaking and represents a duo or group of people.


Please let me know if you have any more interesting ideas in how to crack open a closed audience, who is not really willing to participate.

Still no questions? Also consider your presentation might have been too boring, too long, too complicated, too vague or you spoke too fast and too much. Maybe they want you to stop asap. In that case, give them the present of time and leave a few minutes early. And get some training in public speaking in how to prevent these 6 forms of too. More on these 6 forms of too you can find here (English) of hier (Nederlands).

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