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Stay The Course in the Q&A

All went according to plan. The CIO’s presentation at the online video conference grabbed the audience’s attention with a memorable storyline, visuals worthy of an Apple new product launch, and unmistakable “marching orders.” She told them why they should care and what she wanted them to do.

But then came the Question-And-Answer period.

An underpaid and overcaffeinated software engineer in the seventh row wanted to know why the company had decided to discontinue a certain product. And then he wanted to hear about the company’s policy on worker rights at a supplier in Asia. And then he another thing on his mind, and on and on.

None of this had anything to do with the CIO’s presentation. But in an effort to be helpful, she tried to answer his questions, dragging herself into a contentious and lengthy back-and-forth which quickly made the audience completely forget all the important information she had delivered before.

The Q and A at the end of a presentation isn’t about spin, or evading the audience’s questions. But you don’t want to get dragged down the rat hole. It’s about your priorities, and you want to keep the content (in both your presentation and the Q&A) focused on your goals. So if you’re confronted with an audience member who wants to argue or pontificate:

  • Touch and Go. Deal with the offending question swiftly and then bridge back to your topic.
  • Give others a chance. If the same miscreant keeps trying to dominate the conversation, say “I’d like to hear from other members of the audience” and call on them.
  • The eyes have it. Don’t encourage the filibusterer by continuing to make eye contact. Look at others in the audience.

You did a lot of work to develop and deliver your message. Don’t throw it all away by letting questioners with their own agenda seize control.

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Dave Hebert

Good topic and suggestions, Bill. This sort of thing might be an over-reaction to the very correct desire to engage folks at these events; nevertheless, when it derails the intent for the event, it’s a net negative.