How to navigate—and survive—your next Q&A

If you’re not sure what you want to say in a presentation, a question-and-answer session can seem like a great idea. That’s when you should resist it most strongly. Here’s why.

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The basic problem with a Q&A is that you’re letting other people set the agenda. You’re not in control. Of course, you can decide not to answer a question, but that can make it look like you’re hiding something or unprepared—or clueless. You’re stuck with whatever’s asked, and you’re forced to handle whatever comes out of left field.

Many executives believe they’re better off providing spontaneous answers to unscripted questions, but that format increases the likelihood that they’ll say things they shouldn’t. If journalists are present, there’s the risk of making the worst kind of news. Also, a presentation can be ruined if the last questioner says something like: “So, tell us about that corruption scandal.”

Even when the questions are good, and the executive is on message, spontaneous answers tend to be sloppy. It’s a situation ripe for rambling. Executives enjoy displaying expertise—oftentimes with long-winded results.

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