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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

5 tips to prepare for questions

Updated: Oct 26, 2023

hands raised in an audience to ask a question

Does anticipating the Q&A portion of a presentation fill you with dread? It doesn’t have to. Rather than dread the Q&A, look forward to it by mastering the 5 tips below.

This tip series provides 5 tips for mastering the Q&A, updating a previous tip series and based on content found in Chapter 36 of Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide, which is titled, “Strengthen Communication by Effectively Responding to Questions.” I had the privilege of authoring this chapter along with Marianne Smith Edge, MS, RDN, LD, FAND, FADA, and Katie McKee, MCN, RDN, LD.

Master the Q&A with these 5 tips:

Tip #1 Questions demonstrate audience interest

Speakers often shy away from the Q&A and hope their call for questions is met with silence. Fear no more, because when audience members eagerly ask questions it shows they are interested in learning more. The Q&A session provides an excellent opportunity to eliminate confusion, elaborate on evidence, and emphasize key points. Embrace the Q&A, don’t fear it!

Tip #2 Plan for questions

Provide a time and process for asking questions. The Q&A is often at the conclusion of a speech, but questions can also be solicited throughout a presentation. Use one or more methods that encourage all audience members to participate such as raising hands, coming to a microphone, a phone app, or collecting index cards. Plan to follow with closing remarks.

Tip #3 Listen first and well

The first step in effectively responding to questions is to listen. As Chapter 36 in Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide states, “Really listen. Pay attention to the question, the entire question, without formulating an answer.” Listening demonstrates respect, promotes understanding, and accounts for verbal and nonverbal cues. Listen first. Listen well.

Tip #4 Pause, repeat, upgrade if needed

Before answering, organize your thoughts, and if needed, repeat the question to be certain you heard it correctly and to benefit other audience members. If a question is confusing, overly complex, inappropriate, or unrelated, seek to improve the question. This is a proven method for dealing with difficult questions. Create a win-win-win for questioner, speaker, and audience.

Tip #5 Answer, elaborate, summarize

A well-thought-out response includes a succinct answer using clear language, one piece of supporting evidence or an example, and a summary to tie the answer to a key point. Use the Q&A to clarify and emphasize the main ideas presented in a way that addresses the audience’s needs. With practice and preparation, the Q&A can be a high point of a presentation.

What steps can I take to master the Q&A?

Study Chapter 36 in Communicating Nutrition, which provides a deeper discussion of how to prepare for the Q&A and respond well to questions.

Learn how to deal with difficult questions. Chapter 36 covers strategies for dealing with 7 different types of difficult questions. A previous post with these tips covered strategies for dealing with “I-Don’t-Know” questions.

Another example is the rambling or long-winded question. What do you do? First, a very long question is likely a mini-speech in which the participant is giving their opinion about the topic and is possibly not asking a question at all. If this is the case, the audience will appreciate a presenter who graciously “interrupts” with, “I appreciate your perspective; in the interest of time I need to ask, did you have a question?”

Practice and prepare for the Q&A as part of your presentation rehearsal. Think about your audience. Anticipate questions they are likely to pose. Practice responses to anticipated questions. If your Q&A is at the end of your presentation, follow it with a strong closing statement that emphasizes your main point and gives a powerful takeaway message.

“The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.” ~ Thomas Berger, American novelist

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