Try these Q&A approaches to enhance a keynote speech

Whether you’re hosting an event or delivering the oration yourself, these techniques can deal with audience queries without detracting from the presenter’s energy and message.

How to introduce a keynote speaker

Your keynote speaker just delivered a fabulous talk, and the audience loved it.

Attendees offer sustained applause, perhaps even a standing ovation. As an event planner, you’re thrilled, but now what? Should the keynote speaker have a Q&A session? That seemingly simple decision is quite complicated.

A lot goes into delivering a fantastic speech, but even after a veteran speaker gives a powerful performance, taking questions immediately afterward can suck the air out of the room. The energy is lost, and attendees walk away not with memories of the soaring conclusion but the answer to an attendee’s question.

Worse still, some people use questions to fulfill their own agendas, saying something self-serving like: “My product does exactly what you describe, my question is …”

Other attendees drone on and on before posing a question, sometimes eating up half the allotted Q&A time. That’s not fun for anyone.

Try a hybrid approach.

If a Q&A is important to a keynote, try breaking it off into a separate agenda session.

First up is the keynote speech. After that has concluded, a moderator joins the speaker on stage and offers thoughts for a minute or two. Then the moderator transitions to the second session by asking the first question, then calls on audience members to ask subsequent questions.

To signal the transition to the Q&A section, try moving to a different part of the stage, perhaps set up with tall director-style chairs,.

This separate Q&A session, lasting perhaps as long as 30 minutes, could have a separate billing, such as “A fireside chat with David Meerman Scott.” Though having a separate Q&A with a moderator immediately after the keynote works, it’s sometimes advantageous to have the session later in the program, such as after a break or after lunch.

A similar solution is for the keynote speaker to do another short session, maybe a half hour, for VIP guests only. Often this kind of session is done over a meal and serves as a way to reward special attendees. HubSpot uses this strategy for its annual Inbound conference, giving VIP guests special access to intimate conversations with keynote speakers.

Take the Q&A to social media.

Q&A sessions can also be done through online platforms. At conferences worldwide, audience members connect in real time via Twitter or event apps while speakers are at the lectern.

For speakers, this backchannel enables listeners to discuss content as it is being delivered. What’s more, it brings a global audience into the room.

Social media hashtags enable virtual audience members to tune in. Many attendees post photos and video clips in real time, so people can see what’s happening.

You might also jump into the Twitter backchannel by checking out the hashtag afterward, yet another way for you to answer people’s questions.

David Meerman Scott is a marketing strategist, entrepreneur and author. A version of this post first appeared on his blog.

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