How to handle questions after your presentation. Expert Tips
August 12, 2022
How do you answer questions during or after your presentation? For many people, handling questions is the scariest part of presenting.
Answering questions becomes much easier if you prepare properly. So how do the best presenters handle challenging questions effectively?
Having coached executives for critical presentations for nearly 15 years, we recently asked our team of experts for their top tips.
Whether you are a business executive or from the C-Level suite or just want to improve how you present, these ten tips will help you shine when answering questions:
Ten steps for answering questions after a presentation.
1. Listen to the question fully
2. Think like a teacher
3. Remember, every question is different
4. Think, all questions are good questions
5. Use each question is an opportunity
6. It’s more then just what you say
7. Prepare properly
8. Avoid unanswerable questions
9. End strong
11. Extra tip
Answering Questions Tip #1. Listen to the question!
Take a mental step back when you hear a question.
- What’s really being asked?
- What’s behind the query?
- Is there a hidden agenda?
Don’t be tempted to think of the answer as soon as you hear the start of the question. Instead be an active listener. You may need to clarify the question before answering. If you are not certain what you are being asked, you may answer the question you want, rather than the question they asked. And as you listen, you will learn something. Most questioners are looking for something specific.
How to clarify the question you are askedIf you are not 100% sure what you are being asked, then use one of these question claification techniques.
1. Repeat the question back and rephrase – then check that’s what they want to hear
2. Ask a question:
3. Ask them to repeat the question.
4. Apologies, and say you did not understand, could they please repeat.
Answering Questions Tip #2. Have the mind-set of a teacher
A question is not an exam test. If you are asked a question, its because someone wants to know something. Your job is to help them understand. Whatever is on their mind, how can you help them?
So, put yourself in the role of a teacher. You have presented on a subject you understand, and you have a someone who wants to know more. Your can inform, educate and perhaps even entertain. If you do it right, you will look good in the eyes of the questioner and in the eyes of the audience. Enjoy the prospect of helping people.
Answering Questions Tip #3. Every question is different
We can never know what’s going on in the minds of each member of the audience. That means each person in the audience will see you differently. For some, it will be about protecting their own interests, for others it may be about gathering more information.
And people have their own style – from super soft to nail hard. You’ll have to assess where they are coming from, what they re looking for and how they think. The best way to do this is to listen to and learn from the comments they make and the questions they ask.
Answer the Question Tip #4. There’s no such thing as a stupid question
It may sound stupid to you, but every audience question is aimed at understanding something. Don’t assume that you know what the person really wants. Perhaps they don’t understand – or perhaps they are testing how you react (yes, some people do this!). So treat every question with respect, consideration and then use it as an opportunity to help the audience understand better.
How to Answer Questions Tip #5. Every question is an opportunity
If you are properly prepared for your presentation, then you will have key messages to get across. Use your answers to reinforce, restate, or reframe your messages.
Beware of feeling challenged by tough questions. You do not want to look defensive of uncertain. Instead, like a teacher, you want to help your questioner and perhaps help the audience see the world the way you see it. One powerful piece of advice is Show, Don’t Tell. Use stories, examples and illustrations to bring your business to life when answering tough questions.
Handling Questions Tip #6. How you answer questions is as important as what you say
As we said before, your meeting is not an exam. It’s more like a meeting of minds. So work out what the other person believes and is feeling. How can you do this?
You could ask probing questions, such as:
- Does what I’ve just said explain it?
- Do you want to know more?
For more hypothetical questions you could explore what they believe: “And what do you think?” The more it feels like a conversation rather then a quiz, the more likely you’ll be successful.
Give Great Answers Tip #7. You must prepare
We have seen too many people turn up to presentation Q&A sessions unprepared. By contrast, successful presenters and management teams prepare with the intensity of an elite athlete.
After all, you want to be seen at your peak when presenting.
There are three best practice techniques for preparing your Q&A:
- List the tough questions you may be asked – especially the ones you don’t want to be asked. Work out answers to these in advance, decide which should be answered before the Q&A by incorporating it into an earlier part of your presentation, and which will wait for the Q&A.
- Select who in your team will respond – You will feel more confident and, if the questions do get asked, you will be properly prepared.
- Bring in a fresh perspective. Get someone outside the organisation to identify new questions you may get asked – and get the outsider to listen to your answers to the tough questions. A neutral third party (like Benjamin Ball Associates) can give you insight and expose the weaknesses in your arguments and answers.
- Stress-test your answers. Spend time as a team firing questions back and forth. Then review how you answer these. Keep at this until you have got it right. The more you prepare, the more natural you will sound.
For important preseting events, we frequently spend many hours preparing teams with tough questions, video review and rehearsals. Just like elite athletes, you only build muscle strength with practice.
Challenging Questions Tip #8. Don’t try and answer impossible questions
There are some audience questions you cannot answer. If you learn our approach of Question Triage (a technique for classifying questions up front) you can spot these a mile off. Then you can use proven techniques to get yourself back to safe ground and onto a topic that you can talk about with confidence.
Good Question Tip #9. Finish strong
Audience question sessions often end flat. Frequently, people feel pressured to finish quickly, especially if time is short. This is a mistake.
Never miss this opportunity to reinforce your important messages while also showing that you have listened to what the other person has said. Even a strong 30-second summary at the end will show that you have listened. This can also highlight what they need to hear.
Tough Question Tip #10. Beware the last question trap
AKA the Columbo moment. If you are a child of the ‘70s you may remember the TV series Columbo.
The bumbling detective always finished his interview with a suspect and, as he walked away, would say “Just, one more thing….’ With that one line he caught the suspect off guard and got the information he needed.
How to handle questions confidently
Top tips for answering questions confidently
What To Do Next for Better Question Answering
If you’d like to improve how you handle tough questions, please give us a call.
We’d be happy to discuss ways we can help you. For example, we run extensive Q&A rehearsals to build skills and increase confidence. You’ll find that working with our experts is a small investment that can deliver amazingly high returns.
To discuss how you can improve your next presentation question session, please call Louise Angus on 020 7018 0922 or email email@example.com.
Contact us for a chat about how we can help you with your presenting.
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