What five burning questions will your audience ask?

One of the most challenging parts of a presentation is the question and answer session (Q&A). Many senior executives get worried and anxious about this inevitable part of the meeting. In fact, I would classify any presentation that did not lead to questions being asked as a complete failure. The main purpose of any communication, especially at the senior level, is to move people to action. This requires a level of engagement from the audience which must include questions that deepen their understanding.

So as it’s an inevitable and desirable aspect to your meeting, why not get ready for it in the best most complete way possible. My mantra is “always be ready”. For those of you who were Scouts, remember the motto of the Scouts? “Be prepared”.

Here is a six step process you can use to always be ready and prepared for your Q&A. Applications include:

  • Presenting to senior management

  • Getting ready for a media interview

  • Participating in a weekly conference call with overseas management

  • Contributing to a business review meeting

  • Being on a panel in a shareholder meeting

  • Keynoting at a town hall meeting

Step 1: The burning five

Write down the five most important questions the audience wants to know on the subject you are going to deliver. Some of these questions will be recurring and easy to answer. But use this time to think about some of the tougher question you have been asked in the past. What questions catch you out? If you wanted to ask the toughest, most difficult question on this topic, what would you ask?


Topic: Business review meeting

Burning questions:

  1. How well has the research and development center been integrated into our global product development plans?

  2. What steps are you taking to turnaround a declining gross margin?

  3. How well prepared is the business for a slowing global economy?

Step 2: Trigger your bullet points

For each question, write down your answers quickly using bullet points. Write 4-6 words for each bullet to help you trigger a fuller answer. The skill here comes from not thinking about each question too long. Write down the first five or six bullet points that come to mind.


Burning questions:

How well has the research and development center been integrated into our global product development plans?

Bullet points:

  • Quick update on R&D operations

  • Outcomes from global R&D conference call

  • Pipeline 2012-2013

  • Manpower challenges slowing ramp-up

  • Opportunities we are not taking

Step 3: Make them mobile

Most executives are on the move and you need to be able to capture streams of time to help you get ready. For example, when you are on the road, waiting in the business lounge, taking a flight. These are all opportunities for you to get your Q&A ready.

If you are old-school like me and prefer to think on paper:

Print or write your questions and bullet point answers on some cue cards. Take one cue card for each question. This method works well because you can still work on them when you are taking off and landing. Also, you can move the cards around and see connections between them more clearly than working in digital. Keep blank cue cards handy in your briefcase.

For the people who like to keep everything digital:

Set up a document on your phone or tablet computer that you can come back to and edit. Scan through the questions and rearrange them according to the priorities of the audience you are addressing.

Step 4 : Polish to make them shine

Add, modify and polish your answers. When you have new anecdotes, data or ideas to share add them into the file. If you are using cue cards, you may need to re-print them every now and again. Carry your cue cards around with you in the days before the presentation. Read through them to refresh your answers. You can also keep them close to you in the meeting, especially a conference call and glance at them when a question arises.

Step 5: Flex your Answers

Rehearse so that you can answer each question in a maximum of 2 minutes. Color up your answers with your personal insights, stories and data. Remember most TV media interview expect answers under 60 seconds. Adapt your answers depending on the audience. Senior management prefer concise direct answers. Your company staff in a town hall might like to know more about your personal style or experiences.

Step 6 : Data-bank your Q&As

Overtime, build up a question and answer data-bank Whenever you get a good question, add it to your database. Ask colleagues to suggest questions on the topic you are preparing. If you ever get stuck by a question, add it to your data-bank. You will be surprised at the relatively narrow range of questions you get on any particular topic.


This is how you get and stay ready. As I tell my CEO clients, you need to “always be ready” so you are not surprised by questions. Use this six step process to become bulletproof in any question and answer session.

About the Author

Warwick J Fahy

“I work with senior executives working for multinationals in Greater China who lack the executive presence to effectively influence key stakeholders. While these executives are very smart, very knowledgeable and highly capable, a key piece missing. Their executive communication skills need polishing. I help executives build a strong foundation in executive communication so that they are able to better think, speak and act like a leader to set and implement strategy. Recently, we helped a CEO turn his communication style from being nervous and uninspiring into a more engaging, confident and purposeful executive.”  Learn more about who I help here.

Find out whether your executive team is performing to the best of their potential with Warwick’s article “10 Warning Signs Your Leaders Lack Executive Presence”. Email me and I’ll send you a PDF version.

Warwick is the author of “The One Minute Presenter: 8 steps to successful business presentations in a short attention span world”. Warwick is author of the forthcoming book ‘Speak with Executive Presence in China’ . Now available on Amazon.com.

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©2011 Warwick John Fahy

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