When I give my opening remarks at a conference, I always remind the audience that they are a crucial part of the experience. They are what gives value to the live event. Audience Q&A gives participants a chance to gain clarity, and audience participation is what makes each conference a personalized experience.
From a networking point of view, asking insightful questions is your chance to demonstrate that you understand the difficulties involved in the topic being discussed.
As for the speaker, Q&A is your opportunity to set yourself apart by stepping away from any rehearsed presentations and showcase the depth of your expertise.
Peter “The Reinvention Guy” Fogel offers some advice on how to handle audience Q&A over at his blog:
1) Rephrase the question asked, to be sure that the question has been accurately understood. This can reduce confusing, rambling or imprecise questions and allows the speaker time to regroup and approach the answer.
2) Understand that one of the roles the speaker brings to the presentation is that of a teacher. In the answer, the speaker must think about the learning application of the answer and the question asker’s point of view.
3) Questions, in general are not asked to be difficult or to make a fool of the speaker, but to cement the concepts in the mind of the audience. Keeping this perspective in mind will make the speaker more patient and more thoughtful in their approach to the answer.