Poorly fielded questions can make or break an otherwise excellently delivered presentation. When you don’t know how to address concerns, your credibility as a speaker is reduced. Don’t shy away from answering questions. They can help clarify your information to the audience.
Preparation is key to make sure you can answer anything pertaining to your topic. Despite your best efforts, there are still questions that you may not have the answer for. Don’t resort to answering with filler words when you do encounter a difficult question.
Be honest about what you know and answer honestly.
A thoroughly planned and researched topic won’t leave any stone unturned. When you cover every possible area, then answering any related question shouldn’t be a problem. Preparation should include the limitations of your topic, and the planned time to answer questions about your presentation. If you do encounter a difficult question, simply focus on how to handle it rather than forcing yourself to come up with an answer.
Brand communications expert, Carmine Gallo, gives a few pointers on how to face these tough questions. First, listen to the question carefully. Take into account the acoustics of the room and the noise coming from the audience. Make sure you get the question right by repeating it back to the questioner. Once the question is clear, directly answer for the questions that you’ve prepared for.
Your answers should be brief and concise, keeping in mind your scheduled time. But if it’s beyond your scope, be prepared to how to handle it.
According to leadership coach, Andrew Bryant, when you’re at a loss for words, it’s alright to say that you don’t know. This removes the stress of trying to grasp straws. But instead of stopping with this statement, restate the limits of your presentation. These limits were set in place to ensure that discussion of the topic will be organized and delivered within a reasonable timeframe.
Return to certain key points in your presentation to further explain why and how these limitations were set in place.
Acknowledge every question that comes your way, even if you can’t answer them for different reasons. This includes inappropriate or ill-timed questions. If setting limits won’t stop interruptions, acknowledge the question but delay the answer. There are questions which require such a lengthy response, making your presentation look like a one-on-one discussion.
State politely that you’d like to give others the chance to ask their questions and that there will be another opportunity to contact you for further clarification. After entertaining all questions, make sure to end your Q & A session with your final message.
This appropriately concludes the discussion on your terms.
Pass the Test
Be prepared for what to say even if there isn’t a clear-cut answer. Unlike a real test, we don’t have the answers to everything. Listen to the question carefully and see if the content of your presentation already has the answers. And if not, focus only on what you know and why this works to everyone’s advantage.
Some questions can’t or shouldn’t be answered. But they still warrant your time and attention as the speaker, so treat every concern with respect. Once you’ve finished handling difficult questions, end the presentation with your final message.
With all concerns addressed, your listeners will find you more convincing and credible as a speaker.
Bryant, Andrew. “Presentation Skills – Dealing with Difficult Questions.” Self Leadership International. April 7, 2009. Accessed October 12, 2015. www.selfleadership.com/blog/training/presentation-skills-dealing-with-difficult-questions
Gallo, Carmine. “How to Handle Tough Questions.” Bloomberg Business Week. January 20, 2009. Accessed October 12, 2015.www.businessweek.com/smallbiz/content/jan2009/sb20090120_668348.htm
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