During an oral proposal for a large contract, the selection committee will usually save their questions for the very end. They may leave the room for a short break so they can decide on what questions to ask. (The rules governing Q&A are almost always spelled out in the RFP.)

1. Rehearse the Q&A session

You should rehearse your presentation at least three or four times, including at least one dress rehearsal in front of a real audience. As part of these staged rehearsals, practice taking questions from the audience.

2. Prepare answers for the hard questions

As you prepare your presentation, make a list of the questions the customer might ask and designate someone to work out an answer for each one.
Prepare an answer for the toughest question you might be asked.

3. Appoint a “designated” spokesperson and a note taker

It is usually best for the main presenter – typically the person who will be the project manager if you win the contract – to field the questions.
During the Q&A session, that person will stand in front. Others on the team may remain seated or stand nearby, depending on the room setup.
The selection team will address the spokesperson. In turn, he or she may choose to answer the question directly or to hand it off to the person best able to answer it. If you would like to add something to what has been said, address the spokesperson, asking permission to speak (“If I may add a few words…”)
One person should take notes while the question is being asked. Many questions have several parts to them, and you want to be sure to address them fully.

4. Caucus, if necessary.

If you are not sure how best to answer the question, talk among yourselves. The spokesperson should simply tell the selection committee, “We’d like a few moments to discuss that questions among ourselves.” Gather tightly around in a circle and quietly discuss how best to answer it.

5. Consult the written proposal.

It is perfectly legitimate to refer to the proposal you submitted. (That’s why you want to have one with you during the presentation.)

6. Refer to one of your slides, if appropriate.

If you can best answer a question by explaining one of your slides, bring it back up. Don’t simply repeat what you said the first time around. Use the slide to answer the specific question.

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See also How to Plan an Oral Proposal.

Chris Witt is an presentations coach based in San Diego who specializes in providing team coaching for oral proposals. For more information, contact us.