“The quality of your life depends on the quality of your questions.”
Tony Robbins is right. Not only can asking questions can help you lead a more interesting life, but questions can also add a lot of value to your dynamic meeting or event.
This chapter will teach you how to most effectively handle Q & A sessions, or question and answer sessions.
Here’s an important note: There is a movement in the event world. It is toward more interactive content and delivery.
Audience members are tired of people talking at them. They want to speak with them.
As a master of ceremonies, you can accommodate this new trend in a way that helps make your next meeting both more meaningful and more memorable. A great way to do this is by opening up a question-and-answer session for your attendees.
See Related: Preview (and Review) – How To Be A Great Emcee
There are four types of Question-and-Answer sessions:
- Fielding questions from a live audience
- Posing questions that were previously submitted
- Conducting a one-on-one interview
- Leading a panel discussion.
We will talk about each one, but before we get started, I want to let you know that if you have any questions, I would be happy to answer them.
Here’s my email: email@example.com. Try it and see!
I want to practice what I’m preaching, so if you have any questions that I didn’t cover in this section please feel free to ask me by way of an email. Let’s jump in!
1. Fielding questions from audience members
This type of question-and-answer session serves as another example of why I choose to use a wireless handheld microphone. When a keynote speaker or another presenter is done with his or her presentation, I can go into the audience and encourage people to ask priority questions ahead of time.
Please note that in even these challenging situations, like when you have an audience of over 500 people, it may be difficult for you alone as emcee to accommodate all the questions that can come up. For groups of 150 or more, you may want to have several handheld mics on mic stands positioned throughout the venue or auditorium.
A word of caution:
If you choose to set out microphones in different spots throughout the auditorium, make sure they are turned off (if you use wireless microphones, you should be able to control them remotely) until you are ready to open up the floor for questions.
You could also have your event support staff subtly set them out as a speaker is reaching the end of their presentation. I say this because the last thing you want is to have members of the audience taking to the microphones prematurely and disrupting the program (watch out for those hecklers).
A point of clarity:
Before we go much further, I also want to make this clear: you are not the speaker answering the questions in this context. You are simply facilitating the Q & A session. As the event MC, you still need to orchestrate the proceedings.
Tell your attendees how to submit their questions. Are they putting them in writing or submitting them through their phones? Are they simply raising their hands?
In the case I’ve been describing to you, you would walk into the audience with your handheld microphone, ask the attendee for their name, and say “Hi Jill, what is your question for our speaker, Marianne?”
I do not allow the attendee to grab my microphone because I want to keep the proceedings moving. I also pivot irrelevant questions in order for the speaker to deliver maximum insight for the actual session.
I also don’t want to allow the guest speaker to go on and on with his or her answer in too much detail, so sometimes I have to interrupt the question, and other times I have to interrupt the speaker.
You can do this in a polite way by saying something like “I want to make sure we have time to answer a few other questions, Marianne. Let’s go to another person.”
It’s important that you have a plan for wrapping up the session, and one way of doing that is to say something like, “Okay, we’re going to have time for one more question. Oh, I see someone on the other side of the room here…what is your name?”
This lets the audience know that there is no more time for any additional questions.
2. Posing questions that were previously submitted
This can make for a more organized question-and-answer session, but it can also feel a bit less interactive. The key here is to let your audience know ahead of time how and when they can submit questions for the speaker.
I like to have these on a monitor or in a stack of 3 x 5 cards, that way I can decide if some of the questions are repeats, or not entertaining and/or pertinent to the presenter’s expertise.
In some situations, you can condense two or three questions into one question.
I might say something like, “Mary and I have noticed that among the questions that have been submitted, many of them are asking how a person can be more productive at work but also maintain balance in their personal life.”
The most important thing about posing already submitted questions is to make sure you don’t have a long lag time. Ideally, you want to have questions submitted and available to you for review before you enter into the session.
Like all things, when it comes to being an event MC, you want to have a game plan before you start the game, and then execute it when it’s game time.
3. Conducting a one-on-one interview
For this type of Q & A, you can approach the podium or lectern as the speaker concludes her talk and interview her right on the spot. However, a more ideal situation would be to invite her to either end of the stage (left or right), where two stools or chairs are set up in a talk-show style.
You would then enter into a conversation with this special guest. It’s best if you do not bring a script or multiple papers, as you want it to feel like the audience is listening in on two friends.
Your role as both you and the audience
While you’re having an interesting back-and-forth conversation with the speaker, remember that your role here is to represent the audience, so you want to ask the kinds of questions that are at the forefront of your attendees’ minds.
Think to yourself, “What do I want to know about this topic? What do I want to know about this speaker? What’s the most burning question that I need to be answered?”
Be careful that you don’t just give the interviewee softballs. Ask some challenging questions, but keep in mind you never want to ask them a question that’s so difficult it puts them in a bad light.
Just like in other Q & A sessions, you’re going to want to land this plane, so you might say something like, “Before I ask you my final question, Marianne, I want to ask you this…”
By doing so, you let her know you are nearing the end of the segment.
4. Leading a panel discussion
This is like a session within the session. There are two ways to approach it:
You are the moderator of the panel discussion, so you must segue from the prior speaker or segment into the panel. To do this, you need to introduce each of your guests briefly (in no more than 3 or 4 sentences) to establish their authority and welcome them to the panel.
Then you can ask each person a question and hopefully invite further questions from another audience member. You must be really focused here on three things at the same time:
- Keeping all of the panelists involved
- Staying on time
- Making it continually interesting for the audience
The other way you can lead a panel discussion is by introducing the moderator, rather than being the moderator yourself. You can either have the moderator introduce the panelists or you can introduce the moderator and the panelists.
This is more typical, as a master of ceremonies may introduce the Senior VP of Sales, who then introduces regional sales managers, et cetera.
Again, the key is to know the format and execute it properly.
Tips for Making Q & A Sessions Sensational
Let the audience know ahead of time.
You want to give the audience that “heads up” that they are going to have the opportunity to pose questions to experts, special guests, company leaders, and so on.
Turn good questions into great ones.
Sometimes you’ll get a question that is too easy to answer, like a yes or no question. Avoid questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no: “Marianne, are you having a good time with us?”
Instead, turn a situation like that into a great question by saying, “Marianne, we’re glad you’re having a good time with us– has there been one big ‘aha’ moment that you’ve experienced during our conference so far?”
Encourage openness and empowerment.
As I mentioned at the top of this chapter, the new trend in meetings is deeper engagement. As the event MC, you can encourage your guest interviewee to be very transparent.
You can invite them to share stories of transformation or examples of times they took their own advice that was shared during their keynote presentation and how it led to remarkable growth in their professional or personal life.
You can also set an example by asking a question that relates to something in your own life or work.
Meet with interviewees before the event.
It’s critical to make your guests feel relaxed and at ease. Tell them that they are not addressing the entire audience so much as they are answering your individual questions.
A Q & A session should not feel like another keynote presentation or planned message. It should feel like a live, interactive, spontaneous experience that is shared by the group.
Follow your plan but be flexible, too.
Have four or five questions in mind that you plan to ask the interviewee, along with some questions you have taken from the audience – but as we have talked about before, be a good listener. Certain topics may come up that you feel are especially exciting for the audience to explore with your special guest.
As long as you keep the event program on schedule, you can take your Q & A session down various trails that can lead to wonderful, enriching moments. But be careful to avoid these five mistakes:
5 Mistakes To Avoid During A Question and Answer Session
1. Don’t let a Q & A time turn into a speaker monologue.
Once the presenter has given his or her speech, we don’t need another one. We need to have as many questions answered in the most entertaining way possible.
Sometimes you must gently interrupt the guest speaker and say, “I want to make sure we have time for some other questions, Marianne, and here’s one that Tony wants to know the answer to…”
2. Don’t allow one person with a question to dominate the time.
Be on the lookout for questioners who want to become speakers or share their personal agenda. This is another reason why I never hand someone my handheld microphone.
I point it toward them but keep a tight grip on it – because if they start going on and on, it might be time for me to take the mic back, wrap up that question, and move on to another attendee’s question.
3. Don’t let the conversation drift into negative or controversial territory.
There’s a fine line here: You want to encourage transparency – and even tough questions – but you never want to lead the audience or guest speaker into areas that are insensitive, divisive, or that could embarrass the organization you’re representing.
Follow your gut on odd and inappropriate questions by neutralizing hostile questions posed
This goes back to one of my cardinal rules: if in doubt, leave it out. If you notice that certain questions or answers are heading into the danger zone, it’s your responsibility as the MC to lead everyone in a new direction.
4. Don’t let the Q & A session run over time.
Oftentimes the speaker will be allotted 45 minutes for their presentation and 15 for a Q & A session. In some cases, they may speak for 60 minutes and think that they still have Q & A time available to them.
This is where chatting with speakers prior to them going onstage can be helpful, simply to remind them of the schedule (and the importance of sticking to it).
Be very clear in the way you communicate to them the precise time frame they have to work with and confirm that they understand. By getting this agreement ahead of time, it’s more likely that you’ll end on time.
5. Don’t forget to have some questions ready.
It’s rare, but it’s happened to me: there are times when an audience simply doesn’t have any questions for the speaker. This can happen for a few different reasons:
- The speaker did such a fantastic job that all the questions were already answered
- The speaker covered a topic that was not of particular interest to the audience
- The audience feels intimidated by the speaker
- Frankly, the attendees are just plain bored or tired
Therefore, it’s important to have some of your own questions ready, just in case you need to fill this gap.
As you think about conducting Q & A sessions, remember that the most important things are engagement, interaction, and keeping the train on the tracks.
Keep Reading: Rehearsals – How To Be A Great Emcee
This is an excerpt from Adam Christing‘s forthcoming book, “How To Be A Great Emcee: The A to Z Guide to Hosting Events” by America’s #1 Master of Ceremonies. Follow along as new chapters get posted to this blog category each week.