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You’ve planned your presentation, prepared the slides, and practiced until you’re confident in your delivery. You’re ready for the praise that will surely come when your presentation is over. The only thing standing in your way is the questions you know you’ll get from your audience.
Many new and even seasoned presenters dread taking questions. In reality, questions about your presentation are a good thing. It means your audience is listening (and not talking, texting, or snoozing).
It also means you’re speaking about something they’re interested in. You’re not just on the right track, you have a golden opportunity to reinforce your main messages and achieve the results you want, for you AND the audience.
No matter how many times I conduct training on how to deliver a dynamic presentation, I’m often asked how and when to deal with questions from the audience. Here are the three most common questions I receive, and my advice:
1. Can I wait to take questions until the end of my presentation?
There are two schools of thought when it comes to the timing of taking questions.
Waiting until the end to take questions is an advantage if you want to make sure you don’t lose your train of thought during your presentation. It’s not a substitute for being well prepared, but it could boost your confidence before you begin speaking.
The risk of waiting until the end of your presentation to take questions is that you could lose your audience if you aren’t being clear, the presentation is very technical, or it’s a long presentation.
The advantages of handling questions during presentations are many. Questions make your presentation interactive, and engaging your audience is always a good thing. Communication is a two-way street, and lectures can be boring.
You also make sure your audience understands your key messages as you go, and ‘stays with you’ throughout. This increases the likelihood of your success when it comes to the call to action at the end of your presentation.
Taking questions throughout runs the risk that the questions take over the presentation, and you ‘lose’ valuable time or go off-topic. Know when to rein the questions in and keep moving forward with your presentation. Stay on topic, and be prepared to circle the discussion back to the topic at hand.
2. How can I possibly anticipate every possible question that will be asked?
Anticipating every question may be too much to expect of yourself, but you can anticipate the important ones. How? First, by putting yourself in the audience’s shoes. Then, by asking yourself what they need or want to know from you on the topic, and what their objections might be.
It’s a good idea to build this information into your presentation where possible. If you can’t do that because of time or scope constraints, prepare for those questions anyway, in case they are asked during your Question & Answer session after your presentation.
Don’t forget to anticipate ‘killer questions’, which are those questions you absolutely do not want to be asked.
3. Is there a ‘right’ way to answer questions?
There are many strategies to answering questions. I like to keep it simple, so I recommend using this strategy:
If you aren’t clear about what is being asked, there are a couple of things you can do. Paraphrasing the question to check you have understood it correctly can help make sure you answer the question that is actually being asked.
Repeating the question back word for word is also option. This is a helpful technique to buy yourself a moment to think of an appropriate response.
Show you value the question and the person asking it by thanking them, by name if you know it, and noting how frequent/common/relevant the question is.
Answer the question in as much detail as is appropriate. If you aren’t able to answer the question, defer it to a more appropriate time or until you have the required information.
Don’t forget body language here. Step forward to engage and focus on the person and their question.
Once you have finished giving your answer, check back with the person to make sure they are satisfied and have understood. Then you can move on to the next question.
Bear in mind you don’t have to use all four of these when you answer each question. If you do, your audience might think you are repetitive and a bit robotic. Mix and match to suit the situation, so that you appear confident, competent and in control.
What are your techniques and strategies for answering questions before, during or after a presentation? Let us know by commenting below. Thanks for contributing to the conversation!
P.S. Know someone who could use help handling questions during their presentation? Please share this article with the buttons below; use the green one to email it to them. Thank you!
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