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Fielding the Tough Questions in Presentations

The Q&A session has become a staple for almost any subject you will illuminate with a PowerPoint presentation. Oftentimes, this is a warmly welcomed opportunity for the presenter to clear up any points where the audience might be a bit fuzzy while going into more detail where audience members are interested.

However, as we all know or will eventually find out, presentations don’t always go exactly how we want them to, and sometimes we might face some tricky questions that catch us a little off guard, or intentionally antagonistic questions meant to incite an argument.

As the presenter–the person at the front of the room–you, by default, become the situation’s moderator. It’s up to you to keep the order in the room and the conversation civil and on topic. Most importantly, no matter how hard it may sometimes be, you should always strive to be the most mature, level-headed person in the room when you have the audience’s attention.

Stay on Topic

First off, don’t let audience questions derail your presentation. If appropriate for the topic and allotted time, set aside 5 to 15 minutes at the end of your presentation for a Q&A session. If audience members chime in during your presentation, politely ask them to wait until the end of your presentation.

If your audience refuses to listen to reason and grows unruly, we address that here.


Don’t Lose Sight of Your Topic

There may be a million other things you and your audience want to discuss, and they will likely make that apparent when given the opportunity to ask questions, but remember, you’re the one tasked with controlling the flow of the conversation.

Whenever engaging with an audience member, always be working the conversation (as naturally as possible) back toward the main point of your presentation. This way, you’re not wasting the time you’ve allotted to conveying your message.


ALWAYS take the high ground

keep-calm-and-keep-your-coolGetting visibly upset, agitated, or annoyed can strip any credibility you might have built up with your otherwise excellent presentation.

Similarly, even if an audience member really lobs one over the plate for you, don’t embarrass them for asking a stupid question. This may sound like your elementary school guidance counselor here, but although you may get a few laughs, anyone to be taken seriously will see your bullying as a sign of immaturity.


Take a deep breath before answering each question.

It’s common knowledge that our talking pace speeds up significantly when our adrenaline starts flowing, which happens often when we’re speaking in front of a crowd and our nerves are running high. breathe

Because of this, it’s easy for us to begin rambling when asked to speak off the cuff answering questions, so when you’re asked a question, even if it seems as simple as salt, pause, take a deep breath, and allow yourself a brief moment to formulate your response. You’ll find that this short pause will make your responses much more natural and articulate.


“Keith Alexander Can Teach Us About Presenting to a Crowd.” SlideGenius. July 31, 2013.

How to Incorporate the Audience into Your Presentation

Whether it’s a dry, sedating lecture from our college days, a training seminar that seems to make time move backwards, or a local politician detailing every bit of a new mundane city ordinance, we’re all painfully familiar with just how stunningly boring some presentations can be. The fatal flaw many of these unexciting presentations make is that they forget to work their audience into the equation when planning and giving their presentation.

Consider your audience when planning your presentation, otherwise this may be the result.
Consider your audience when planning your presentation, otherwise this may be the result.

Breaking “the wall” between you and your audience is a great way to keep them engaged, entertained, and even on their toes throughout your presentation, ensuring that they absorb every bit of what you’re saying. Audience incorporation, when done right, can generate a lot of constructive energy in your presentation, and it can even help you relax and feel more at ease with the group you’re presenting to. Here’s a few tips to make sure you’re doing it correctly.

Don’t Start Off with Audience Participation

The beginning of a presentation, especially in front of a cold audience, is often the most difficult part. Here it is alluring to transfer some of the attention away from yourself to your audience by asking them to participate, but avoid this temptation. At the beginning of your presentation, the audience is also the most unfamiliar with you, so you need to “warm them up” first. Allow them to grow comfortable in their chairs and develop some sense of trust–or at least familiarity–with you. However, don’t let them grow too comfortable. Many communications experts will argue that audience members switch to “TV mode” after about five minutes, where they will switch to a passive mindset and just become an observer.

Craft Constructive Questions

While audience participation can add a lot to a presentation, when done wrong, it can be awkward and alienating for the audience. For instance, singling out an audience member at random with a surprise question will usually catch them off guard, causing them to illicit a short, unhelpful response and disrupt the flow of your presentation.

There are a few ways this can be avoided, and to incorporate your audience in a natural, low-pressure way. First, if you’re going to be asking audience members questions directly, plan carefully and tread lightly. I’ve found that the best way is to give your audience ample time to formulate a response and let them be the ones to volunteer if they want to answer.

In an attempt to avoid putting people on the spot, some presenters will ask the audience a broad question and hope someone volunteers a response, but most people are usually reticent to offer up a response in a cold audience.

A middle ground is to divide the audience up into groups or pairs, have them discuss your  question or topic, and then ask for volunteers to offer their response. This will allow them to formulate a response and grow more comfortable with the audience before being asked to speak.

Formulating Questions

When asking the audience questions, it’s important for the questions benefit your presentation without derailing it. Know the exact response you want, and direct your presentation accordingly. Don’t make it too complex where your audience is stumped, but don’t make it so dumbed down to be mundane.

It’s often difficult to predict how an audience will react until you try the questions out, so test the questions out on friends and colleagues to gauge their effectiveness.

Lastly, be creative. There’s no scientific formula for engaging your audience. Don’t force anything, pay close attention to the energy of the audience, and think outside the box; you’ll do just fine.