Key Takeaways

  1. Speakers typically project more confidence during prepared comments, and less confidence during Q&A.
  2. An important part of practicing and preparing for a presentation is anticipating and planning for likely questions. 
  3. Two ways to plan (do both!):
    1. Keep some expected questions from arising at all, by building responses directly into the prepared presentation 
    2. As part of overall preparation, practice question-handling for likely areas of questioning.
  4. The “ADD” structure (Answer, Detail, Describe) provides a quick and reliable way to answer questions posed by your audience.

Explore Further

optional exercises for further reflection and practice


  • “Handling Difficult Questions” by Matt Abrahams (GSB)
  • “Eight Ways to Handle Tough Q&A Sessions” (Slideshare)
  • “2014 Roundtable at Stanford: The Climate Conversation You Haven’t Heard” (Stanford)
    • 11:40-12:36Great panelist response to a question. In response to the question How should people think about uncertainty around climate change?, Tom Steyer not only refers to and builds upon another panelist’s response, but he also uses an analogy to help the audience understand how to think about scientific uncertainty re: climate change.
    • 15:28-15:48: Great moderator question, among many like this, in which she refers to a panelist’s experience or expertise (or a previous conversation that she had with a panelist). She clearly did her research.
    • 10:07-10:26Moderator keeps the conversation on track after the panelist George Shultz jumps in with an eloquent statement about climate change that takes the conversation in a different direction. The moderator rather awkwardly steers the conversation back to her original question — so it’s not easy!



  • Practice the ADD  (Answer, Detail, Describe) Q&A handling structure.  First, choose five interview questions from this article. Next, record yourself on audio (good) or video (better) answering each question, using the ADD structure each time.  
  • In any class you attend during the coming week, attempt to answer at least one question in class using the ADD structure.  Reflect on how it felt to use the structure.  

Build Your Checklist

this list grows throughout the academic quarter
  • Create my Anxiety Management Plan (AMP) and use when speaking publicly
  • Define my audience and speaking goals:
    1. Who am I speaking to?
    2. What are their needs?
    3. What I want them to think, feel or do differently after hearing me?
  • Choose and apply an identifiable structure, such as:
    1. What, so what, now what?
    2. Problem, solution, benefit
    3. What is, what could be, new bliss
  • Create a powerful opening and closing
  • Prepare visual aids that pass the “billboard test,” reinforcing structure and story:
    1. One big idea per slide
    2. Quick impact
    3. Clean and crisp
  • Practice and digitally record my talk repeatedly, refining:
    1. Visual delivery: Stance, movement, gestures, eye contact
    2. Vocal delivery: Volume, dynamics, pace, tone
    3. Verbal delivery: opening, closing, structure, story
  • Plan and prepare for Q&A:
    1. Anticipate and eliminate the need for some questions, by building responses into presentation
    2. Practice Q&A handling as part of overall preparation