I keep hearing speakers talk dismissively about audience Q&A. They feel it’s a distraction from their message and they treat it as an afterthought. But I believe that whenever it’s technically feasible you should always take questions from your audience.
Based on my own experience as a speechwriter and public speaker, here are five reasons why.
1. Q&A Makes You Accountable
Knowing that your audience can challenge you and that you’ll have to defend your arguments publicly keeps you on your toes. It forces you to think hard about holes in your logic or unsupported assertions. I’m constantly working through every possible objection audiences could have and strengthening my material accordingly.
2. It Gives Your Audience a Voice
There are very few forms of purely passive entertainment these days. When we watch movies and TV at home, we’re constantly supplementing the experience with a second screen. When we read news stories, we add comments or we share and debate them on social media. Audiences today are conditioned to expect some level of interaction. Allowing time for Q&A gives them an important outlet for their opinions.
3. Q&A Helps You Strengthen Your Material
When the same questions keep coming up, it could mean you’re not making yourself clear. My whole approach to business communication is to take lessons from acting, but several audience members asked whether “acting” means being fake and superficial. That was helpful feedback, and it prompted me to clarify that point. Your audience is a focus group—take note of their opinions and adjust accordingly.
4. Audiences Can be Smarter Than You Are
Some audience members don’t just ask questions; they offer observations from their own experience. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, so I welcome additional perspectives. Audiences have given me useful tips on handling stage fright, measuring YouTube viewership, and how the rules of communication can be different for women. I’m happy for audiences to benefit from that knowledge and I even incorporate what I learn into future presentations.
5. Q&A Helps You Think on Your Feet
Handling questions live requires you to listen carefully, to access information and anecdotes quickly, to speak succinctly, and to link your answers back to your main messages. And those are skills that can not only help you on stage, but in job interviews, at networking events and in your everyday life. When you get to the point where you can field questions smoothly and effectively, you know you’ve reached a certain level of mastery of your content.
How to Take Questions From Your Audience
I actually look forward to taking audience questions. I find it fun and challenging.
And, of course, lack of audience interaction just happens to be one of the 11 Deadly Presentation Sins that are the subject of my forthcoming book, which I’m really excited about. I can’t wait to share more when it’s ready.