We conduct a lot of training sessions at Trischel, and sometimes ones that we have not written ourselves! As our fame grows we are being asked to present a number of sessions on topics that we may not be the experts on, and so – like any wise person, we seek the advice of those more experienced – and often get it.
So, dropping into my in-box are suggested training sessions on a whole load of new topics; and I devour them with avidity!!
Then I noticed that almost without fail, they will contain the terse instruction – Conduct Q&A session here. Just like that … off the top of your head, conduct one of the most important sessions in any training, the “determine if learning has taken place” bit.
And that set me thinking. Are we conducting the Question and Answer Session as well as we should be? I will put my credentials up front here; I am an experienced army trainer; I hold my certificates in Workplace Training and Assessment; I have conducted many a performance assessment for other trainers … and yet, I don’t think I have ever heard a comprehensive training session on this most important topic.
Ah yes! I hear you, yes indeed I have sat through and even conducted an entertaining brief on the types of questions; I have waxed lyrical about open and directed questions. I have even instructed on how to use questioning techniques to control those inevitable ‘disruptive influences in the training room.’
But the Question and Answer session can actually make or break our presentation; so we should give it just as much consideration as we do other parts – we should, but I bet we don’t!
We all know that there aren’t any embarrassing questions – but boy; can we get and give some really embarrassing answers. We need to be able to get the Q&A working for us, not – as it so often does – against us; right after we say “Any questions”
So what can we do to improve our Q&A performance? Here are some suggestions that have worked for me:
• Consider your material and make some assessment of what questions might be asked; and make sure you have the answers ready.
• If the session is on a difficult or complex topic, expect some difficult questions. You might need to have another way of explaining it in mind; just in case. Sometimes just going back over the subject the same way won’t work. If they didn’t get it the first time, it is doubtful they will comprehend it the second.
But if you give the information in a different way, it can turn the lights on for them.
• Don’t be intimidated by difficult questions; and don’t become defensive. You loose credibility when you adopt a negative defensive attitude. So prepare answers and give them assertively.
• Make sure that you take questions from all parts of the audience; simple advice but we can often find ourselves pinned by aggressive questioners.
• Listen carefully, giving full attention to each questioner. Don’t assume you know what the question is going to be about before they have finished. Too many people find it really difficult to frame a clear question. So listen without judgement, using positive body language to encourage the speaker.
Avoid nodding the head to show understanding – it’s a trap. The questioner will probably think that you agree with them; and so will the rest of the audience.
• Treat each questioners the same way; If you say “Good Question” to some but not others, it implies the others did not have good questions! And be very careful not to brush off questions that seem trivial – or that you have previously covered. Treat each person with respect.
• Repeat each question, and if necessary paraphrase it. This allows the questioner to confirm you have it correct, and the audience to hear what was asked. It also gives you another second or two to consider your answer.
• Specifically, paraphrase negative questions, or hostile ones. Never repeat back hostile language used by an aggressive questioner. Paraphrase it into more neutral language. It focuses the audience on the question not the emotion.
• Keep you answers short and to the point. Don’t make your answers too long or too complex. Focus on the key issue in the question and answer that. Sometimes you may have to clarify, but if it is not essential don’t waste time.
• If you don’t know the answer (and if the question arises out of a training session then you should!) – then don’t try and bluff your way out of it. Acknowledge the fact and offer to find out. If that is acceptable to the questioner move on to the next question.
But if you have agreed to research the answer and respond privately – then do so. Not getting back to the questioner will damage your reputation far more than not knowing the answer!
So the next time you pick up a training running sheet which advises you to conduct a Question and Answer Session right about here – remember some of these tips; and you can make that Q&A session really zing!
Michele @ Trischel
Trischel Innovative Training