Handle Audience Questions Effectively in Your Next Presentation
One of the biggest presentation fears many professionals have (and one of my own biggest fears when I started giving presentations) is being unable to answer questions from the audience. This fear is understandable. No one likes to be caught not knowing something.
The starting point in articulately responding to questions is to prepare. Think about who will be in your audience and what questions they might ask. Prepare responses and practice giving them. Have coworkers come up with their own questions and drill you. With ten to twenty questions for which you’ve prepared responses, you’ll likely have covered most of the questions the audience will come up with. Be sure you make your answers brief, keeping the major premise of your presentation in mind.
Be sure you listen to the entire question before determining your response. Questioners sometimes want to make a point in asking their question, so as you’re absorbing the content of the question, try to glean the questioner’s intention.
If questions come up for which you need a few moments to formulate an answer, buy time by repeating the question. Actually, it’s a good idea to repeat the question even when you know the answer to ensure everyone has heard the question.
After you’ve repeated the question, you can ask if you’ve stated it correctly. You can also ask clarifying questions. The questioner might then offer additional information that helps you better understand the question—and gives you more time to articulate your response.
If you truly don’t know the answer, say so. Listeners much prefer an honest “I don’t know” to an attempt—which is usually obvious—to fake an answer. If you can track down the answer, indicate that you’ll do so and will get back to the person with it. If you anticipate tough questions, consider bringing along a colleague who has expertise in aspects of the topic where you’re weak. Then you can simply turn to your colleague and ask, “Can you take this one?”
Every question you can’t answer becomes information you can review afterward so you’re ready to respond the next time someone asks the same question. It may even be information you can incorporate into your next presentation. The more questions you answer, the more fluent a presenter you'll become. You may find, as many people do, that addressing questions is one of the most energizing parts of presenting.