Every presentation and pitch ends with a Q&A session. It is an incredibly important part of the overall presentation and it should not be left to chance.
There are two elements of the Q&A that make it so important:
It breaks the format of the pitch. Your presentation has gone along a certain path with you and your team talking and the prospect listening. Now it is a free for all. That change in format will cause the prospect to pay more attention now. He or she is no longer lulled into the predictable rhythm of your presentation. I haven’t seem research on it, but I suspect that overall, prospect attention is very high during Q&A, surpassed only when you opened the presentation.
Attention drops during the middle section of most presentations, which is why you’ll often hear questions from prospects on things you discussed in the pitch but that they didn’t hear. All the more reason to really focus. By the way, when a prospects asks a question about something you covered in your presentation, there’s no need to remind everyone that you already covered it. Simply, answer the question.
Secondly, identify the most important people in the pitch from your side and make sure they answer more than their fare share of questions. Those people should also be sitting in the most prominent part of the room so prospects can connect with them.
Here are a bunch of guidelines for making your Q&A powerful:
-The Q&A can demonstrate individual strengths and weaknesses. When a prospect asks a specific question of a specific presenter, they may be signaling discomfort with that person and want to test it out. This is good if the person answers correctly. Bad if the question is sidestepped.
-How you answer is as important as what you answer. One of the more common complaints I hear from prospects is that someone on the prospect team asked a question which someone on the presenting team answered while looking directly at the head person on the prospect’s side, not the person who asked the question. When this happens pack up and go home. That kind of behavior is seen as that offensive by prospects. Direct your answer first to the person who asked the question, but if there is more to say, look at others on the team, as well.
-Be sensitive to piling on and have a cue to your team to stop them when it starts happening. Piling on means that your side is asked a question and someone answers, then every other person on your team feels the need to add some additional information. When I owned an ad agency we had 4 equal partners. When a client asked a question they would get 4 answers (hopefully similar).
-Control your CEO. Some CEOs insist on answering some or part of every question. They should only answer a question if no one else is able or if the answer is so incoherent that it must have more meat put on the bone. Otherwise, stay quiet.
-Use the Q&A to answer something important that came up in the pitch and was not resolved. Perhaps during the pitch itself someone asked a question which was not well answered. Start the Q&A period off by saying that “I’ve been thinking about something you asked during the main presentation and want to explain our thinking…”
-Smile when asked a question but don’t jump too fast to answer. If you don’t follow the gist of the question, by all means ask for more information so that you can answer fully.
-Try to avoid starting each answer off with “that’s a good question”, “I’m glad you asked” etc. You’re not there to rate the quality of their questions, you are there to provide answers.
-You, or someone on your team should be looking at the person who asked the question and try to read in their facial gestures if they understood the answer. If not, ask them for more input.
-I have found from personal experience that one of the best answers to a question is “I don’t know. But I’ll find out and get back to you this afternoon.”
-If you have someone shy on your team who would be reluctant to volunteer an answer, direct the question to them. It is important that everyone field one or two questions during this time.
-If you are doing Q&A by yourself, and you are standing in front of a group, walk a few steps towards the person asking the question as you begin to answer.
-If you are at a conference room table and someone at the far end of the table asks a question, go out of your way to make eye contact, including standing up if need be. Whenever possible don’t just turn your head towards the person asking the question, but actually square-up your entire body towards that person.
-Finally, never ever end your presentation with the Q&A. Always thank everyone for their good questions and make a formal close to your pitch, with some call to action at the end. The best way to set this up is to say something like “I have a few things I’d like to say in closing, but before that let’s take a Q&A session.”
Any more questions?