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What to Watch Out for During Your Presentation’s Q&A

Preparation is crucial to any successful presentation. But even as you plan and rehearse as much as you can, there will come unscripted moments you never thought to prepare for. This is particularly true when the Q&A rolls in.

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Sure, you can prepare for questions that people will likely ask. But what about questions that come out of left field? How do you handle difficult questions or hostile comments? Morry Morgan of the School of Hard Knocks came up with a list of 5 different types of people you’ll encounter at a presentation Q&A. However, since these 5 types could end up overlapping in specific scenarios, we’ll list down the types of questions and comments that will leave you stumped instead.

To help you avoid a stressful Q&A, here are the types of difficult questions you’ll likely encounter:

1. The Backhanded Compliment

The Backhanded Compliment can be a question or a comment. On the surface, it might sound sincere and innocuous. But anyone who pays close attention will notice a certain edge to how it’s phrased. Most of the time, the backhanded compliment undermines all the effort you’ve put into preparing your presentation. While some constructive criticism can be helpful to broaden your discussion, these types of comments will always feel unwarranted and hostile.

How to Handle It: Your natural response is to be defensive. This will make you feel better, but it will only fuel the fire. The Backhanded Compliment will derail your Q&A into a fruitless argument. The best thing you can do is to ignore the hostility. You can say, “Thank you for your comments. I’ll keep them in mind for next time. Does anyone else have a question?”

2. The Non-Question Question

This type of question never seems to have a point. Either it repeats something you’ve already covered, or it states something particularly obvious. Based on Morgan’s list, the Non-Question is usually raised by people who are trying to show off in front of the crowd.

How to Handle It: As you should when faced with difficult questions in your Q&A, be polite and try not to lose your patience. Have the audience member elaborate their question further. You can say something like, “I’ve covered that point earlier. What do you specifically want to know about it?”

3. The Curve Ball Question

This question is raised to serve a single purpose: to leave you fumbling through your notes looking for the answer. It’s a question that catches you off guard because it was never part of the scope of your presentation.  Sometimes, it’s asked by people who are genuinely curious about something tangential to your discussion. But it can also come from those looking to see you mumble a thoughtless answer.

How to Handle It: When you’re suddenly faced with a Curve Ball during your Q&A, remind the audience of your scope and limitations. Tell them you only set out to answer specific aspects of a broader topic. Offer them an alternative channel where they can reach out to you after the presentation. You can say something along the lines of, “Given our limited time, I can’t cover every aspect of today’s topic. Email me your questions and I’ll try to address them more specifically.”

4. The Pop Quiz

The Pop Quiz isn’t just one question—it’s a series of very specific questions that will soon make you feel like you’re back in school again. They’re not necessarily hostile in nature. Most of the time, the Pop Quiz is addressed by someone very eager to hear what you have to say. In fact, the reason why they’re asking you so much is because your presentation caught their interest.

How to Handle It: To avoid feeling lost, prepare a notepad which you can use throughout the Q&A. When you’re faced with a Pop Quiz, take down the questions asked of you and repeat everyone before beginning to answer. “Thank you for your questions. Let me repeat each one and tell me if I got anything wrong.” This will give you more time to think about what you want to say.

5. The Close Up Question

Anyone asking this type of question has scrutinized every detail of your presentation. Morgan calls them “Critics”.  For some reason, they can remember every typo or mispronunciation you made. A Close Up isn’t so much a question, but a comment made to magnify your small mistakes.

How to Handle It: To avoid this scenario completely, check your slides and content before you have to face the audience. If there are errors you missed, own up to it. Thank the audience member for pointing it out and move on to the next question. Respond with something like, “Thank you for pointing out what I missed. You’ve been very observant and I appreciate that.” A quick answer should be enough.

6. The Long and Winding Question

As its name suggests, these queries take forever to be asked. Before you hear the actual question, it will recount points you’ve already made in your presentation.

How to Handle It: You’ll have limited time for Q&A, so try to interject as soon as you can. Politely interrupt and ask them to skip directly to their point. Wait for a slight pause and say something like, “I think I see where you’re getting at. What other details can I give you?”

The Q&A of any presentation can be quite challenging. Be prepared for whatever comes your way. With these tips, you can safely navigate through any difficult scenario.

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Featured Image: Mike Linksvayer via Flickr

Presentation Skills: Handling Questions with Grace and Authority

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