02 Jun How to Handle Questions when Presenting
You’ve done everything within your control to prepare for that presentation. You’ve:
- considered the audience – who they are, what they know and what they want
- ‘begun with the end in mind’ and know what you want the audience to do as a result of attending your presentation
- practised and practised so that you know what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it
- developed your visual materials to enhance your presentation.
The one thing that isn’t within your control is how the audience will react! What if they ask too many questions and you run out of time; even worse, what if they ask questions you can’t answer?!
How do you feel when this happens? How does it affect your delivery of the content? Although you can’t control this aspect of your presentation, you can prepare for it so that when you’re asked a question you can respond in a confident and professional way.
So, in this blog I’m going to address what you can do to ‘expect the unexpected’ so that you are unruffled, maintain your professionalism and respond to questions well.
Preparing for Questions
For me, the starting point to answering questions well is to prepare for them. I start by asking myself “What would I hate to be asked?” and “What are the 3 worst questions that I could be asked during this presentation?”.
I sometimes ask my colleagues for their ideas too. Thinking this through beforehand allows me to consider the answers in advance and prepare for them so that when the question is asked, I think “Great; I know the answer to that one” so am able to respond confidently and effectively.
So, that’s what I do beforehand, but what about during the presentation?
Responding to Questions
Firstly, I now have the mindset that questions during a presentation are a positive sign and shows that the audience is interested in my topic. Having this view allows me to welcome questions rather than avoid them.
Secondly, I say, during the introduction, when I would like to take questions. Depending on the presentation, I can either choose to take them throughout or ask people to hold them until the end. There are pros and cons of both:
Taking questions throughout allows the audience to have their burning questions answered immediately so that they can concentrate on the rest of your presentation but it could mean that you may be taken off course or diverted down a path that you were planning to cover later.
Taking questions at the end allows you to deliver your presentation as planned but means that your audience may have questions earlier in the presentation that stop them from listening to what else you’re saying.
So, having made the decision about when you’ll take questions, someone asks you one! The mnemonic DRAT gives you a helpful strategy for handling questions confidently.
Decide first if you’re going to answer the question now, later or not at all. It may be that the question will be answered later in the presentation so you may decide not to answer it now. If you’re not going to answer the question, either now or later, let the audience know why this is the case; for example, “It is outside the scope of this presentation so I won’t be covering it today”.
Rephrase/Repeat the questions – there are two reasons for doing this. Often, we start to mentally answer the question before the questioner has finished asking it. This means that we could respond with an answer that doesn’t fit the question. Repeating the question lets you check that you have heard it correctly. The other reason for repeating it is that other people in the audience may not have heard the question and then spend time asking their neighbour “what was the question?” so they hear neither the question nor the answer!
Answer the question succinctly. For me, succinctly is the important part here as the question may be relevant only to the person asking, not the whole audience, so if you spend too long answering a question that others aren’t interested in, you may lose your audience.
What if you’re asked a question that you don’t know the answer to?
Again, you have a number of choices. You can:
- Say that you don’t know but you’ll find out and get back to them (make sure you do as there’s nothing worse than a presenter saying that they will find out and then the audience never hears from them again!)
- Admit that you don’t know and then ask what other people think
- Ask the audience for their opinion straight away by saying “What do you think?” or “Who knows the answer to this one?”
- Offer to answer the question offline if you think that the answer is unlikely to be of interest or relevance to the rest of the audience.
You need to decide, in the moment, the best approach for that situation but it’s important to recognise that you don’t have to have all the answers; use your audience to support you when this happens.
Thank the questioner. I say this because it takes courage for someone to ask a question in a group, particularly as they may be afraid that the question’s been answered. Also, it may be that other people have the same question so, when someone else asks it, they may be relieved that the question has been asked by someone else.
Using DRAT has really helped me over the years by preparing for questions beforehand and having a positive mindset about them. Look at questions as an opportunity to show your expertise and demonstrate your credibility.
How do you feel about being asked questions? Do you welcome them or do you run from them?
Check out our other blogs on presenting:
Next month’s blog is on the importance of casting a Leadership Shadow.
Posted by Caroline Lewis