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Presentation Skills: Handling Questions with Grace and Authority

July 29, 2014 / Blog presentation skills, presentation tips, questions and answers

One of the presentation skills you’ll need to master is responding to questions effectively. Some presenters dread getting questions because they’re scared that someone will bring up a point they can’t address. Because of this apprehension, they may come across as defensive, unknowingly creating a communication barrier.

Your presentation skills will greatly improve if you accept that questions are an essential part of any form of communication. Individuals take in and process information differently. No matter how much preparation you put into your presentation, it’s perfectly natural that a few people would want some points clarified.

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Why it’s Important

It’s not because you were unclear or because your audience simply can’t understand where you’re coming from.

According to keynote speaker Anne Loehr, instances like perception gaps can skewer your presentation, and have an opportunity to correct that is actually good for you.

Don’t feel burdened by questions from your audience. Your presentation skills will greatly improve if you learn how to handle them with grace and authority. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

1. Learn what questions to anticipate

As you prepare for your presentation, make a list of questions that you think people are going to ask. If you know your topic well and you’re familiar with your audience, you can easily tell the type of questions that could come up. Common inquiries revolve around “What comes next” and “What has to be done?”

If you’re pitching to investors or prospects, it’s also common to have your weaker points scrutinized. Try to address these concerns before they are brought up. Make sure your presentation provides sufficient data, strong examples, and concrete action plans.

2. Establish the rules

Most speakers are anxious about questions because it makes them feel like they’re losing control over their own presentations. That doesn’t have to be the case if you clearly establish how and when you’re going to take questions. Set a specific schedule and let your audience know about it in the beginning of your presentation.

3. Listen carefully and repeat what was said

Effective communication isn’t about talking all the time. Your presentation skills also rely on being able to listen carefully to your audience. When someone makes an inquiry, make sure you listen to it attentively and rephrase it to make sure you understand it well. Don’t automatically assume what the question is going to be about and jump to answer it. Clarify if you have to.

4. Give a concise answer

You’re already running on limited time as it is, so don’t waste any more by giving a long, complicated answer. Keep your answers brief and straight to the point. That way, you’ll have more time to clarify points that others might have.

You should also make sure that the answer you gave is what your audience is looking for by saying something like “Does that answer your question?” or “Hopefully that addresses your concerns.” If a question requires a more in-depth answer, offer to provide additional information through a follow-up email.

5. Be truthful and sincere

If someone asks you a difficult question, don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t have the answer. It’s better to be truthful and sincere than explaining half-baked ideas. Assure your audience that you’ll do additional research on that point and follow through on your promise. Take note of these questions and personally reach out to the audience members who brought them up once you’ve checked for the answer.

6. Don’t play the blame game

It’s important that you take responsibility for the information you present and avoid blaming errors on others. If someone brings up a point that counters what you presented, acknowledge it calmly and move on. Don’t shift the blame because you want to maintain authority. It will come across as unprofessional and your audience will more likely feel turned off by it.

7. Rephrase aggressive questions

Similarly, there might also be an instance where someone from the audience jeers you with an aggressive question. When this happens, don’t lose your composure by answering in a similar way. Instead, neutralize the question by rephrasing it.

Think of your presentations as a conversation. After you’ve addressed the audience, it’s their turn to ask questions or give their input. Make an effort to hear their side by encouraging them to ask questions.

Sharpen your presentation skills by responding to audience queries with grace and authority. You’ll find that having the opportunity to clarify some of your points is actually helpful in the long run.

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Featured Image: David Goehring via Flickr