How to Avoid the Q&A “Tumbleweed”

Illustration Poster - Tumbleweed_Guru Blog - Tumbleweed.jpg

“Any questions?”


“Ehem, no questions?”



I remember cringing and dreading the Q&A at a conference in London recently as I witnessed speaker after speaker make the same mistake over and over again.  These business leaders clearly needed my ‘impact’ help!

You know it’s coming – the Q&A - ……however, those seemingly innocent two words can ruin a brilliant presentation;

“Any Questions?”

Aaarhhhhhh – it goes silent (And I really hate silences, that’s my particular bug bear).  You can hear the Tumbleweed ssshhhhh, sshhhhh drifting across the stage past the podium. 


How many times have you seen this?

The speaker looks around desperately hoping there won’t be any ‘difficult’ questions but at the same time in hope they won’t be rejected in the form of NO HANDS going up to ask a question.

You’ve been there, haven’t you? It’s like a dagger piercing your heart and all you hear is a deafening silence which turns into your  inner critic;

“They have no questions, they are NOT interested in me,

I am rubbish, FAIL!”

Don’t ‘Any questions’ at the end of your presentation or pitch ever again….ever …..unless…

1 – You have a moderator who can ask you the first question without any embarrassing tumbleweed pauses (And you know what the first question is going to be)

2 – You have a plant (or 2) in the audience you know will ask a pre-arranged question (trusty colleagues are good here)

Here’s the Good News!  You never have to experience that embarrassing silence again.

 You Need The Hook:

So how do you get the audience to react to your talk and start a lively discussion that’s:

·      Interesting

·      Engages the rest of the audience

·      Ends your presentation on a high?

My broadcasting tips and techniques work perfectly for live audiences in meetings, pitches, presentations or conferences. Here’s what I learnt;

When I was producing live interactive call-in shows at the BBC I noticed that audiences need certain hooks and inspiration to contribute to the discussion.  People need to feel moved and motivated to bother calling into a radio show. 

You need to think like a producer.

What doesn’t work?

Call in now. (Crickets)

Any questions? (Crickets)

Call in now and ask X about X.  (Crickets)

However, if we asked the question;

 “Call in if you know anyone who owns a loud pair of Rupert Bear- style trousers?”

The phones would literally ring off the hook – the switchboard lit up and the twitter feed went crazy. (did you have Twitter then Esther?) It got people thinking – they would send in photos and start sharing all sorts of crazy memories (older people would send in stuff from the 1970s – hilarious!).  And once a couple of callers started the conversation people would join in because they had something to spark off their imagination.

 2 Top tips for you to handle Q&A without the Tumbleweed silences.

 1 – Start the Q&A with a SPECIFIC Question. Eg. Does anyone have any experience of doing business overseas?  Watch the hands going up. 

This act of putting hands up warms the audience up.

You could then ask – how did you find it? And call on an eager looking person who’s put their hand up.

2- Ask yourself a question! 

The other week I was speaking to women in the army (The Royal Signals) and the brigadier suggested I take questions at the end while I stood on stage (I was hoping to take the questions during tea at the end)

Oops – my clever plan of avoiding a potential tumbleweed moment was scuppered.  

Luckily, she had a question, so she kicked it off.

Aha, I thought on my feet…”I was speaking to a  few of you over lunch and a question that came up was , how to avoid blushing….do you go red when you speak?

At least 20 people put their hand up. 

Perfect, I found myself answering my own question but bringing them into it, no tumbleweed, phew!

I ended the Q&A with …

“If you have a question about dealing with pressure, please do ask now….. or come and see me afterwards if you are a little shy to talk about it in front of 200 people!“

Don’t leave the Q&A to chance!

If you’d like me to help you and your team speak with more confidence, avoid tumbleweed and handle the Q&A better in presentations, pitches and meetings please do drop me a line NOW 

patrick Volavka