Answering Audiences Questions Appropriately
You’ve crafted an excellent presentation: you’ve practiced the talk, rehearsed your presentation, and even managed to come up with a few great jokes. But have you thought about the questions your audience may have for you when you’re finished?
How to handle audience questions effectively is a key part of any presentation. Why? Because when people in your audience ask questions, you know you’ve engaged them. When they ask questions or give feedback, it means they’ve been listening to what you’ve been talking about—and they want to know more.
Questions Provide Feedback
For some people, opening up the floor and answering the audiences questions at the end of their presentation causes a lot of anxiety, and it’s usually because they’re afraid someone is going to ask a question they can’t answer—or worse, a question they’re not comfortable answering.
Great discussions evolve from Q&As—not to mention, the questions your audience members ask can provide valuable feedback and insight for your business. Don’t shy away from an audience’s questions. Here are a few tips to help you make it through the question-and-answer period of your next presentation:
Anticipate The Most Likely Questions
If you’ve ever done a presentation, you know time is of the essence. That means sometimes you have to pick and choose which points you will elaborate on, and which ones you won’t. Some of the points you aren’t able to talk at length about will leave unanswered questions that your audience will inevitably ask you during the question-and-answer period. What are questions you are most likely to be asked? What questions have you been asked before? You may not predict every question the audience has, but if you are prepared for some of them (and have practiced your responses), you’ll look more polished and professional when you answer them.
Listen, Pause, Repeat
One of the most important things we talk about during our Presentation Skills Training workshops is that a presentation is all about communication, and you can’t communicate effectively without listening. Make sure you fully understand the question being asked of you before answering it. If you’re not sure what they really meant by the question have them rephrase the question. Listen to the entire question, pause for a moment to reflect. If everyone in the room didn’t hear the question, repeat it so everyone in the room knows what was just asked. By doing this, you not only confirm you understood what the person has asked and it also gives you a moment to process it so you can come up with an appropriate response.
Put The Fish on the Table
If there’s a difficult subject or situation that you know someone is going to ask about, use it to open your presentation. Address it up front so no one thinks you’re trying to hide it or avoid the subject. This is particularly helpful when you’re speaking on a subject that’s contradictory to something that’s happened recently. For example, if you’re delivering a presentation on world peace the day after a terrorist attack, it would be ridiculous to ignore the event. Acknowledge the “elephant in the room” first and find a way to incorporate it into your presentation.
It’s okay if you don’t have all the answers. If you’re asked a question you can’t answer, thank the audience member for asking the question, admit you didn’t anticipate being asked it, and then ask if you can follow up with them after the presentation (and after you’ve had a chance to find the answer or come up with a good one). Always get the person’s name and contact information and make sure you do follow up. It’s a good idea to have a pencil and paper available for you to write down questions you can’t answer on the spot.
Opening up the floor to questions is a great way to get your audience involved in your presentation, and it provides an opportunity for you to gauge what it is your audience has taken from your talk. If you’ve been reluctant to include a question-and-answer period in your presentations, give it a try the next time.