Department of Communication


Cross-Examination: The Basics

  1. If you were well prepared for your speech, you should also be well prepared to answer questions on your topic.
  2. Because you won’t know ahead of time exactly what kind of questions will be asked, answers are essentially impromptu responses.
  3. From questions, you can learn which points of your speech may have been unclear, or what arguments or objections your audience may have.

Basic Purposes to Cross Examination for the Questioner

  1. Clarify information.
  2. Set up your own arguments.
  3. Press for logical or factual errors in the answerer's arguments.

Tips for Success

Prepare for questions in advance

Be thorough in your research so you feel confident and able to answer questions

Consider how your supporting materials and evidence can be applied to answering questions. Statistics that you have may answer some difficult questions; similarly, perhaps you have an expert that explains why something is the case.

Often questions will arise naturally from your main points.

Anticipate questions you might be asked and think about how you will answer them.

Rehearse answers aloud to most difficult or complicated answers so you can answer them without hesitation.

Practice speech in front of a friend—have him/her ask tough questions.

Don’t go in with a negative attitude

Do not think of Q & A as “facing a firing squad”--instead, think of this as an opportunity to continue persuasion.

A sharp/defensive tone will alienate members of your audience.

Invite and answer audience questions in a straightforward manner

Call on questioners in the order that they sought recognition.

Maintain eye contact when question being asked.


Repeat the question or paraphrase what you heard the listener say

This is especially important if the question is long or complicated, or if the acoustics in the room are bad, or audience is large.

Paraphrasing ensures everyone in the audience hears the question.

Gives you time to think about an answer without a long pause.

Helps you make sure that you understood the question correctly or got all of it.

Can help you steer the question into the direction of something you are prepared to answer.

Don’t lose delivery skills in Q & A

Some speakers’ delivery improved (more relaxed).

Don’t fidget or mumble.

Maintain eye contact with the audience while you answer questions.

The purpose of cross-examination to extend understanding to entire audience, not have a private conversation with just one person.

Defuse hostile questions

Reword emotional questions in objective language.

Do not get caught up emotionally yourself.

Consider using empathy toward an emotional response (I understand your position, etc.).

Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know”

“I don’t know” can diffuse hostile questions/audiences.

Some questions are outside of the realm of your research, the wall, totally out of left field, or have no relation to your speech.

Know what your turf is (what you cover in your speech) this should be a good guideline for what you can say I don’t know to.

Do not bluff. It will catch up to you.

Recommend the place where the answer might be found.

Offer to look it up or to check into it for the listeners.

Keep your answers short and to the point

Do not give another speech.

The more you ramble, the more you are likely to hang yourself.

If you are trying to stall, it’s going to look like you are stalling.

Don’t let self-indulgent questioners to distort the function of the question and answer period

The purpose of Q & A is to clarify issues for the entire audience.

When one audience member wants to “stand on a soapbox,” wants a specialized consultation to a problem, etc., YOUR OBLIGATION is to bring the Q & A back on track!

Allow only one follow up question per person.

Do not be dragged into a debate with one person.

Handle non-questions politely

What’s a non-question? An audience member giving a speech.

Utilize statements like “Thank you for your comment” “I appreciate your remarks” “Your question, then, is ..?”

“That’s an interesting perspective, Can we have another question?”

“I’m not sure what you're getting at . . . could you rephrase the question?”

"In the interest of time, I’d like to answer get to a few other people."

Bring the question and answer session to a close

Call for a final question.

Summarize the essence of your message to refocus the audience on the major points of your presentation.

A Typology of Bad Question Askers and Ways to Handle Them:

The Speech Giver

The person has no real question to ask you but taking advantage of the assembled audience for their own purposes.

It is often ineffective to ask what the question is, because it gives the person another chance to speak.

It is better to construct your own question related to the person’s ramblings, answer it, and go on to another question on the opposite side of the room.

The Extended Dialogue

The p erson might start out with a genuine question, BUT does not relinquish the floor when you respond.

RATHER, he/she counters with follow-up questions, comments on answer, new lines of discussion.

The response: Thank you, maybe we can talk later.

The 'Pick a Fight'

While it is expected that questions might be penetrating, some questioner are inappropriately argumentative with hostile personal attacks

There are not seeking an answer to a question, but attacking credibility.

Don’t let them succeed. Don’t become angry. Don’t defend yourself against personal attacks.

RATHER, answer calmly, find the kernel of the question, paraphrase, and answer it.