As technical presenters, there is an expectation to close our presentation with a Questions and Answers (Q&A) session. A couple years ago, I attended 3 technical conferences in 3 weeks. During that time, I sat in over 20 presentations. I saw all kinds of different presentation styles. There was one common part with all of them though. Every presenter ended with a Q&A session. The results of these Q&As were interesting.
With most, when the Q&A began there were some good questions. After the first one or two however, the questions became MUCH more detailed and they began to take the presenter away from his or her intended message. Many people stood up and left the room. By the time the Q&A session ended, I couldn’t remember what the topic of the presentation was. What may have been a good technical session had degraded into a chase down a rat hole on one very narrow, specific point. The presenter had lost most of the audience due to this.
My worst Q&A occurred when I had finished giving a 50-minute presentation at a technical conference. I had given what I thought was a brilliant description of file systems and volume managers when I closed by asking “Are there any questions”? A lady in the front row who had paid a lot of attention eagerly raised her hand. I knew she had a great question.
“Bob, where did you get your shirt? I love the color of it! I’d like to get one for my husband.”
I was flabbergasted! I didn’t know what to do. The audience laughed and about half of them immediately stood up and walked out. I had lost total control of the presentation. I’m sure that the attendees only remembered that last question and nothing that I had said during the previous 50 minutes.
Audiences remember the first and last things they hear. You want your audience to hear YOUR words last, not some crazy question that may not even relate to your message.
Since a Q&A session is expected in most technical presentations, the question is how to do it without making it the very last part. Here’s how I do it now in my presentations. About 10 minutes before I plan to end, I will say something like this:
“I have one last story to share but before that, what questions do you have?”
This allows me to give time to the audience to ask questions, but I’ve also promised them a story after Q&A so they have something to anticipate at the end. Since I’ve started using this technique, it’s amazing to see how audiences stay around to the end to hear my story. I make sure that the story I end with sums up the main points of my presentation.
Promise your audience a story, do Q&A and then tell your story and close with what you want the audience to remember. You will find that audiences will remember your message more than ever.