Top tips no 7: Handling questions in a presentation

Begin by taking control over your thoughts and feelings around questions (see Eating Questions for Breakfast.)

Then turn this into action.

Work through these five steps and questions will become a rollercoaster you can learn to enjoy.

In fact, you’ll be able to open your eyes, let go of the handrail, fling your head back and laugh outrageously at questions.

Here are the steps:

Work it out before the presentation
Practise as if ‘live’, with colleagues
Get comfortable with taking action on unexpected questions
Perform your answer
Ask questions of your own

Work it out before the presentation: Work out what you’re going to do, when the question is asked that you don’t know the answer to. Anxiety is caused by uncertainty and possibility. That’s why questions make us nervous. They could be about anything. The key to confidence is to create some certainty for yourself.

Practise as if ‘live’, with colleagues: When you rehearse your presentation, ask some colleagues to be the audience and brief them to ask as many awkward questions as possible. The act of rehearsing will enable you to get more comfortable. Make a note of the responses you find tricky and rework your responses afterwards. Then practise your responses a couple of times out loud.

Get comfortable with taking action on unexpected questions: Welcome the question and smile. Say something like, “I hoped you were going to ask me that because that’s something I’ve been thinking about.” Or “Thank you” Or simply say, “Ah!” (as in ‘wonder’ not ‘panic’). Make this truthful. If it’s a new question, say, “that’s new for me”.

Perform your answer: Make sure you have a flip chart to hand. During your introduction, mention that you might use it. Then, when you get a question, walk over to it and write a heading “Good questions” (or something like that). Then repeat the question back to the enquirer. Check you heard it correctly. And then write up the question that’s been asked. Pause. And then turn to whoever asked the question and ask, “have I got that right?” Then you could answer it, if you can. Or you might say, “I have a few thoughts, before I share them, what do you think?” This depends on the nature of the question of course.

Ask questions of your own: Another way to create some certainty around questions is to ask some of your own. Why should your audience be the only ones that can ask something? This is especially good after you’ve made a key point.

Here’s how….

Firstly, let your point settle and pause. And then ask: “Can I ask at this point how this is landing with you?” And scan the room. Pause here to give your audience a little space to think. Because they may not be ready for your question. But that’s OK. Then when they answer, you listen and you can respond, say thank you, ask another question or make a note of what they say. Perhaps a question will surface that you can add to the flipchart.

With these techniques, you can start to create some certainty for yourself that will calm your nerves around questions.

To finish, I have a question for you.

“When you’re in a meeting or presentation, how many experts are there in the room? And on what?”

You could consider the room as a group of people working together to find an answer, everyone on the same side. This may change your idea of questions as being ‘something to fear’ into being ‘the route to progress’.

Turning questions into a conversation allows you to open your eyes and enjoy the presentation, all the ups and downs, twists and turns. This is where the gold is.

Do you need to work on your approach to questions in presentations or on presentations in general? Do get in touch.

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