Answering Presentation Questions Confidently

Taking questions is an integral part of your presentation and requires the same preparation as the presentation content in order for you to manage things with confidence.  There are different ways of taking questions from the audience and this will depend on the type of presentation scenario.

If you are giving a more interactive presentation, you may be taking questions throughout the presentation and it can become more of a discussion with the audience.  If it is a more formal presentation, you may have a Q&A session at the end of the presentation.

The importance of preparation

Whatever type of presentation it is , its important that you prepare for the questions from the audience.

You don’t want to just rely on being able to think on your feet on the day and hope that it all goes well.  You can do some specific preparation, just as you do with your presentation.

Audience Baggage

It’s good to think about the audience again and what attitude or pre-conceived ideas or opinions they may have when the come to the presentation.

This is what we call  ’Audience Baggage’.  If you consider the Audience Baggage beforehand and think about the types of questions the audience may ask,  you are going to be more prepared.

Preparing for difficult questions

It’s good to write down some of the most difficult questions you may be asked.

Then take the time to decide how best to answer these.  Write down your answers. Then practise answering them out aloud.  If you’re unhappy about your response, rework it.

The responses that you have prepared will then help you if you do actually get asked these (or similar) questions on the day by giving you a set of phrases and words you have already formulated in your mind that you can now draw upon.

Controlling the audience

You want to be in control of your audience and not let anyone take over in the question section.

There are some key techniques that you can use to help control your audience.  For example setting ground rules and how to do this effectively so that the audience follow them.

Also it’s important to fully understand the questions first before responding.  Often we go into panic mode when we hear the question rather than staying calm and taking time to listen to the question to make sure that we fully understand it.  So taking time to listen and understand the question first is a good calming technique and will help you stay in control.

Avoiding audience traps

The ability to deal with difficult questions and being able to respond with ease, without losing face is very important in order for you to maintain your confidence.

It’s therefore important that you  are succinct in your responses and say what you want to say rather than what the audience might try and trap you into saying.  Again – the more you have prepared beforehand and anticipated difficult or trap questions, the more you will be able to handle them effectively on the day.

Ending confidently

It’s also important that you know how to end the question and answer session confidently.

It can be sometimes hard to bring the session to an end if people have got  more questions to ask.   The last thing you want is to lose control of things right at the end, so plan how you want to end the Q&A session beforehand.  Make sure you stick to the time allocated and have a closing statement or strategy at hand, ready to use when you want to end the session.

The ability to take questions effectively is all about good preparation and planning, so that you  have the ability and confidence to be able to tackle any question that you have thrown at you.

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16 Responses to “Answering Presentation Questions Confidently”



  • Michele:

    Great Post, answering questions is so important – also, I think it is important to understand the types of questions that you yourself can ask, remembering that those that ask the questions cotrol the agenda! When my particpants ask questions pertaining to the subject matter that has been taught, I like to try and prompt them to find the answer, so I may remind them that we discussed that just before lunch; so what do they think the answer might be.

    Referring the question is also another great way to ‘dig out the information’ – asking another member of the group if they can help out. “Mary want to know about …. what can you tell her about that, Jim” is a great way to get audience participation, and often you will have others offering to answer.

    I like to try and get them to answer where possible, as I believe that helps to implant the knowledge – and it also give the trainer a break!

    Michele Keighley AIPFM
    Training Manager
    Trischel Innovative Training



  • presentation-skills.biz:

    Michele, many thanks for the response. And agree with you when applied within the training context.



  • Jon Thomas, Presentation Advisors:

    Great post! I especially like the point about ending with a closing statement rather than allowing your message to fall off the top of the audience’s mind after multiple questions. Very important.



  • Kathy Reiffenstein:

    Excellent advice…if only presenters put as much time and energy into anticipating and preparing for questions as they do into the content and slide design!

    Two of the techniques I teach in my presentation skills classes are to redirect and to rephrase. When appropriate, redirecting the question to the audience…”What do the rest of you think about that?” or “Who has experience with that situation?” can involve the audience, generate interesting dialogue and take the monkey (temporarily) off your back, letting you prepare an articulate response.

    Rephrasing or repeating the question is useful to ensure that everyone in the audience hears it and to ensure that you have not misunderstood and are actually answering the question that was asked.

    Kathy Reiffenstein
    And…Now Presenting!



  • Robin Dickinson:

    Thanks for this excellent article. (is there a name to whom we can address our comments?)

    To your key points, I would add…

    THE Q&A SESSION “IS” THE PRESENTATION

    In my experience, the Q&A session IS the presentation. What I mean is, how you handle it can have a huge impact on whether you get future recommendation.

    For every hour spent preparing for a presentation, I like to spend at least the same amount of time studying/researching the audience (who, what, when, where, how etc).

    Depending on the specific circumstances e.g. size of audience, mix of audience, your familiarity with audience etc, the following additional distinctions have worked very well for me – in no particular order:

    a) Know who the key decision makers/influencers are in the room, so that when you answer a question, you understand how your answer will affect the dynamics in the room. ‘Flying blind’ can destroy value for your audience and you.

    For example, I have seen a highly paid professional presenter cut off a question from a key director in the audience so as to finish on-time.

    Yes, the presentation kept to schedule, but the presenter was severely reprimanded for “brushing off” the question, the answer to which was of keen interest to the wider audience. In this situation, it is easy to acknowledge the question and seek a small time extension so as to answer it.

    b) Always answer a question with a (personal) acknowledgement e.g. “Thanks, Jo. That’s an excellent question.” Acknowledgment is so powerful, and it buys you time for those tricky questions.

    c) Field key questions before you present. Just a small amount of research will usually reveal burning questions for a group. These can be addressed during and after the presentation.

    It’s a huge topic, and there are many more distinctions.

    Best to you and all your readers,

    Robin



  • Presentation Skills:

    Hi Robin, for some great comments and further advice on preparing and handling the Q&A session. Totally agree with you.



  • Lenny Laskowski:

    On additional tip I suggest to my clients when teaching them how to handle the Q&A session: After you have taken the last question, many people just say thank you. Instead, after you have taken the last question, close with short statement which restates your main message. This brings back the full control of the presentation to you.

    Lenny Laskowski
    National Best Selling Author, “10 Days to More Confident Public Speaking”



  • presentation-skills.biz:

    Lenny, great point you make re how to end the Q&A session. Can’t think of a better way of doing it.



  • Tim Lyon:

    When answering questions I try to keep another ‘rule of three’ in my mind. Firstly, when the question has been asked I repeat it back to the audience, this ensures that everyone has heard it.
    Secondly, answer it using all the great tips above.
    Thirdly, thank the questioner and check with them that they satisfied with the answer. Then there can no avoidance issues.



  • Jonathan Hemus:

    I agree with m ost of the comments above, but I disagree with Robin’s second point:

    b) Always answer a question with a (personal) acknowledgement e.g. “Thanks, Jo. That’s an excellent question.” Acknowledgment is so powerful, and it buys you time for those tricky questions.

    I think this has become a cliche and the cynic in me says that the audience knows that the presenter is playing for time – and often that they really wish that particular question had not been put!

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