Presentation Questions and Answers
I’m Glad You Asked That Question
Woohoo, it’s presentation questions and answers time!
Are you kidding? Who wants questions thrown at them when giving a presentation?
“I’m glad you asked that question” and “That’s a good question” are classic ways to stall while desperately searching for an answer. Dealing with questions can be challenging.
In this post we’ll look at questions and answers as part of a presentation. Or Q&A as they are often called.
We’ll consider the pitfalls and the benefits of a Q&A session and suggest strategies for responding to questions in a positive way.
Shall we ask some questions and see if we can come up with the answers?
The Reality of Q&A
Depending on the context of your presentation, some questions may be loaded, asked in the hope of tripping you up.
Terry Green, co-founder of the Qmatic queueing system and the original voice of ‘Cashier number three please’, recounted being advised in his media training by a BBC editor to, “Treat every question as if it was loaded and every microphone as if it was live.”
Journalists are always on the lookout for a good headline, and luring some poor soul into an ill-thought-out response to a question is part of their toolkit.
Even in a business presentation there may be someone present with an agenda that hopes to profit from your discomfort in the face of a tricky question.
Sometimes questions are even asked that are completely unrelated to the subject, but the questioner is going to ask anyway.
The reality is that you can’t escape questions. Even if you don’t invite them, a determined questioner won’t be put off. So you may as well embrace them.
If you view questions as a positive, as an opportunity, life gets easier. You are no longer on the defensive, but seeing the potential benefits of Q&A.
Audience questions should be welcomed. If nothing else, they show the audience is still awake. But so much more can be gained.
You can use Q&A to make your presentation more of a conversation than a lecture. It will help you to connect with your audience. If your presentation is interactive, the audience are more likely to pay attention and to stay engaged.
And to learn.
Q&A allows you to understand whether the audience is taking on board what you are saying.
And if it helps you to get across more detailed information to the audience, it can become a much more effective learning experience.
Planning for Q&A
What do you mean, planning? Don’t you just wait to see if anyone asks a question?
Well, yes. If you like living life on the edge.
Let’s look at a less exciting but more effective approach.
Are you going to tell the audience you’ll take questions at the end or invite them to ask at any point in your presentation?
Just taking questions at the end keeps everything neat and tidy and avoids you getting side-tracked from the flow of your presentation.
Of course, there’s always the risk that someone may ask a question part way through regardless. If it’s a business presentation, you’re not going to tell your boss or potential client to wait until the end, are you?
Inviting questions at any point has risks. Too many questions and your presentation can be derailed completely. Particularly if the questions aren’t relevant to what you are discussing.
Perhaps the compromise is to ask for questions at the end of each part of the presentation, even if you simply ask, “Is everyone following this or would you like me to clarify any aspects?”
Anticipate the Questions
Of course, you won’t be able to think about everything the audience may throw at you, but some questions may be easily anticipated.
What questions would you ask if you were in the audience?
If you can practise the presentation with a colleague, get them to think of questions. Even if you don’t rehearse with them, they should still be able to come up with the odd query you hadn’t anticipated.
There may be parts of your subject that you know will cause a hostile reaction. So plan how to deal with it. Accepting that it is controversial and being understanding of the situation is more likely to win you friends than rubbishing the question. If the questioner appears to be in the minority, suggest having a face-to-face conversation after the meeting.
Unless you are a world expert, at some point in your life as a presenter, you’ll be asked a question to which you do not know the answer. Don’t bluff and bluster. Simply admit you don’t know and offer to find out and follow up after the meeting.
If you can take a colleague with you, who is knowledgeable on the subject, so much the better. You may be able to deflect the question to them. But before asking them if they could answer, check their willingness by making eye contact. If they are looking down at the floor, it is code for “Don’t ask me”.
Part of your presentation planning needs to consider the time available and how to use it. The unpredictable aspect will be the time to allow for questions. The only way to deal with this is to think about what questions may be asked and how long you’ll need to answer them fully.
If you are using PowerPoint, it may be appropriate to have a few slides with additional information specifically designed to help answer requests for more detail. These can be kept hidden unless required.
I’m Sorry, I Don’t Understand
The question is confusing. Or the questioner speaks very quietly. Perhaps they have a strong accent.
You could say, “I’m sorry but I didn’t quite catch that.”
Awkward though if they repeat and you are still mystified. So maybe then try, “If I understand correctly, the question is…”. Assuming there seems to be some degree of acknowledgment that you’ve grasped it, then go ahead and answer.
If it’s clear you’ve still misunderstood you can say, “I’m really sorry but I’m still not hearing you correctly and it sounds like an important question – can we catch up after the presentations – thanks”.
The main thing when answering questions is not to antagonise or embarrass the questioner – this will only result in the audience losing faith in you and more importantly what you are saying.
Any Final Questions?
Presentation question and answer sessions can be challenging. Are you going to embrace questions or try to avoid them? Isn’t it much better to welcome them and turn them to your advantage?
Involving the audience will help to develop a rapport with them that will help you to get your message across.
If you try to anticipate the likely questions and plan how you’ll respond to them, you’ll find your presentation will go more smoothly and be less stressful.
And don’t rush to answer questions. Listen to them carefully. Then take a couple of seconds to think about the answer before you speak.
One last thought.
If someone asks a question that enables you to expand on your subject, you could even use the audience to your advantage. How about saying, “Oh, that’s a good question. Anyone got any thoughts on it?”
Inevitably one or two will pitch in with comments. That will leave you time to plan your response, which will complement and expand on the audience inputs.
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