Audience Engagement: Creating Friends Not Foes During Q&A
A Primer for Presenters
Theater presenters and demonstrators are a staple of audience engagement at trade show exhibits. Your subject matter experts have been chosen carefully for their knowledge and ability to present effectively. But are they totally versed in handling engagement with their audience? Share these tips so your presenters will be prepared for anything the audience gives them.
You've aced the presentation and now it's time to open the floor to your eager audience. The challenge is knowing what questions are going to be asked, how you should answer them, and most importantly how to keep the audience on your side. After all, if you become defensive during the Q&A session, or if you only vaguely answer their questions, then the audience could quickly turn from friends to foes. Here’s how you can maintain your status as a subject matter expert and may even leave you with a standing ovation.
4 Tips to Make Friends During Q&A Trade Show Presentations
As with many things in life, you are often remembered by your final impression. For tradeshow presenters, this final impression typically occurs during the Q&A session. In fact, it might just turn into the most memorable portion of the event. Instead of alienating your audience by accidentally creating “foes” through poor Q&A strategies, you can instead implement the following tips to create “friends” who are interested in maintaining a professional relationship long after the applause has died down.
#1. Be Aware of the Hidden Agenda
Most of the time audience members will ask sincere questions that garner a genuine response. However, for every presentation there is always one bad apple, i.e. the person who has a hidden agenda. Be on the lookout for someone who isn't interested in wearing the friend hat, but rather wants to use the Q&A session to look smarter, while simultaneously making you (the responder) look unintelligent. Regardless of this hidden agenda, you can come out ahead by approaching the question with a high level of professionalism. In other words, don't stoop to their level, it's never worth it, especially when you are trying to make friends not foes.
#2. Be a Straight Shooter without Becoming a Know-It-All
It is easy to get off track when you are flying off of the cuff during the Q&A session. If you find that you have gone off on a tangent you can do one of two things. You can either acknowledge your tangent and get back on the right track, or you can put the ball back in the questioner's court by asking, “does this answer your question,” or “is my answer helpful?” The latter strategy will give you a chance to regroup as the questioner rephrases their question or simply lets you off the hook. Finally, you can always circle back to the question, should you find that it connects to your answers later-on in the Q&A session. This strategy will show your audience that you care and that you want their needs to be met.
#3. Invite Interaction
You shouldn't be “talking at” the audience during a Q&A session. Instead, you want to encourage interaction via an active conversation that treats the audience as equals without creating the grounds for a debate. Remember that as humans we co-create meaning through our relationships. As such, whether you are speaking to 100 or 10,000 people, the Q&A offers the perfect opportunity to create a relationship with every single individual. Even though you are the responder, you don't want to do all of the speaking. Instead, encourage a dialogue that allows audience members to play off of each other's questions with follow-up comments and inquiries.
#4. Be True to Yourself When the Curveball Question is Thrown
Just as there is always that one audience member with a hidden agenda, there is always one good-intentioned person who asks a question that is way out in left field. Don't let the awkward question trip you up; instead, put on your dancing shoes, do a little jive, and answer the question professionally. If possible, don't forget to try and tie your answer back to the main message of your presentation. When handled correctly, your answer to the awkward question can become memorable and make you a few extra friends.
The Bottom Line: Practice Makes Perfect
Whether you are a tradeshow presenting pro, or you have just begun to step into the limelight, one thing is certain — practice makes perfect. By implementing the above tips you can and will make friends instead of foes during your Q&A sessions. Finally, don't forget the power of a smile and direct eye contact; these two components will become your invitation to audience connection and friendship.