How you handle questions from an audience can often be the deciding factor as to how your presentation is received. If you’re pitching for business, then it’s absolutely vital to handle questions well.
1. Be prepared for questions – When you write your presentation, think about what you’re likely to be asked and what your answer is going to be. Maybe you won’t want to answer a particular question there and then, so think about what you’ll say to satisfy the questioner.
2. Make it clear at the start – You may decide to take questions as you go or at the end of your presentation. Whatever you decide, make it clear at the start and don’t change your mind. I would suggest questions at the end in a short presentation; if you take questions as you go, then your timing will get knocked out. And always remember, an audience won’t forgive you for taking half an hour when you were only scheduled to speak for fifteen minutes.
3. Never finish with questions – Far better to ask for questions five or ten minutes before the end, deal with the questions and then summarize for a strong finish. Too many presentations finish on questions and the whole thing goes a bit flat – particularly if you don’t get any.
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4. Listen – When asked a question, listen and look like your listening. It may be something you’ve heard a million times before. Treat the questioner with respect and don’t trivialize their point.
5. Thank the questioner – It’s only polite, it shows respect and it gives you a bit more time to consider your answer.
6. Repeat the essence of the question – Some people may not have heard the question so your answer may not make any sense to them. It can also be irritating for them not to hear the question. Again, it gives you more time to think of the answer and it makes you look so clever and in control.
7. Answer to everyone – Don’t fall into the trap of only answering the questioner. If they happen to be near the front then you could end up having a conversation with them and exclude everyone else.
8. Keep it simple – Many speakers, when it comes to questions, have become more relaxed and the fact that someone is interested enough to ask them a question, leads them to go on too long with the answer – DON’T.
9. Don’t bluff or bluster – If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so and find out. Suggest to the questioner that you’ll phone them or come and see them with the answer. It can even be a good way to make further contact after the presentation.
As we all know, it’s possible that you may not be asked any questions and you then have that awkward silence. People may be thinking about what you’ve just said and may need more time to ask. They may also be a bit shy and may take a few minutes to speak out. Why not have a question of your own prepared and say something like. “You may be asking yourself…?” If you still fail to get any questions then go straight into your summary and closing statement.
Handling a question and answer session well, demonstrates your professionalism and reflects on your message.