Seven Tips for Increasing Engagement During Q & A

Don't be so busy with your own dog and pony show that you don't engage with your audience. These seven tips will help

The most over-looked portion of a meeting or presentation is our old friend the “Q & A.”  Today, meet “Gloria” and “Charles” who handled high-stakes presentations entirely differently from each other.

Note the level of engagement and commitment they each garnered from the same audience.

Presenters who want the audience to “keep up”

“Any questions? Okay, that’s it. Enjoy the rest of day and thanks for the good work you’re doing out there.”

Gloria was a senior executive who had just delivered an energetic but one-way launch of the second phase of an initiative to a group of 30 managers who had been tapped as emerging leaders. Gloria’s presentation went by like a freight train and there wasn’t much of an opportunity to get on board. Everything was buttoned up. It was going to be fantastic. 

To be clear, Gloria was impressive. She was uber-smart and commanding with get-it-done moxie. Yet, when she called for questions, there were no takers.

I was observing from the back of the room. Since I would be facilitating the afternoon program on building trust through  authentic communication, I wanted to make sure I would be relevant to the entire day. 

Presenters who want to “keep up” with the audience

After the break, the second executive scheduled to speak that morning, Charles, was introduced. Charles did not walk to the front of the room and pick up the PowerPoint remote clicker where Gloria had left it.  

Instead he walked to the center of the room and stood in the midst of the managers.  With a warm and open demeanor he said, “I’m here this morning about to learn from you what’s working and what’s not working with the first phase of the new initiative.”  

Charles went on to ask individuals by name what they were seeing in their market. “We’ve got time to shape the next steps—what are we missing so far, Shaun?” and “What is most likely to hold us up?” were the kinds of questions he asked.

He was respectful of their insights. He stopped occasionally to jot a note.

By the end of his allotted time, Charles had helped release the group into a rich and meaningful dialogue.

They had gone from passive attendees trying to steal a glance at their mobile devices to motivated, empowered leaders who were talking about solutions.  This made my job easier as I took that spirited dialogue and carried it over into the afternoon for a powerful conclusion.

Charles had demonstrated real leadership:  If you want to hold productive meetings, don’t come with all the answers and everything nailed down—and don’t throw away the Q & A.  Prepare more, say less, ask great questions and follow up.

If you give people the opportunity to share their insights and participate in the solutions, they will buy-in and blow past their goals.

Seven tips for Q & A

When planning the roll out of a new initiative or project update, consider these seven secret weapons that will ignite engagement in the Q & A session:

1. Blow up the old model and turn it around. Be the one who asks thoughtful questions to draw people out.

2. Do your homework. Identify the problems, issues and who can help crack open some productive dialogue.

3. Avoid the dreaded report-out that makes for mediocre meetings. As soon as you say, “Let’s go around and hear from everyone,” the rich comments leave the room as people begin to think of what they’re going to say in the ritual.

4. Listen with generosity. When you get a comment or question, don’t rush to answer simply because you know the answer. Thank the individual for the question after he or she has finished  asking it. Pause before answering. 

5. If the comment or question is long and vague, you might help with something like, “I think I understand the question—but let me make sure. Are you saying the frontline folks need a different kind of training? Okay, what would that look like?”

6. Be human. Let them know you don’t know everything, and that you can learn from them. If you do not know the answer, say so. Follow up after the event.

7. End with a powerful close. When the time is up, come back to the big picture and send people away with a sense of direction. Commit succinctly to what you are willing and able to do. Let them know how their input will make a difference if not to the entire enterprise to you and the area of which you have control. If you over-promise or do nothing, you  will destroy your credibility.

Interact Studio welcomes the opportunity to help you with your next important presentation. Reach out here.

 

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Avatar for Lou Solomon

Lou Solomon

Lou Solomon is the founder of Interact. She is a TEDx speaker and a member of the adjunct faculty at the McColl School of Business at Queens University of Charlotte. Her articles have appeared in Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur.com, CEO.com, and Fast Company.