How to Handle Tricky Audience Questions During a Presentation
Imagine you spent hours preparing your slides, practicing in front of the mirror, and finally, a solid hour delivering what you would define as the most enthralling speech to an audience, only to have a member of the audience pull the rug from under you in the end by asking a very intimidating question that you have no clue how to tackle.
For a large number of speakers, the most difficult aspect of giving a presentation is the Q&A that comes right after the rendition. They deem it difficult and super terrifying as most times, the questions encountered cannot be controlled and are hard to prepare for. What if they challenge your stance? Try to discredit you? Or ask you something you don’t have the answer to? What if it’s a technical question and you can’t think fast enough?
While you may not want to hear it, you must know that answering audience questions is an imperative part of your role as a presenter. They give credibility to your content and form an important part of the presentation for the audience as they allow for clarification and consolidation of learning. Fortunately, you can prepare in advance to hit any curveballs that come your way during the Q&A section of your presentation. Try these tips:
Take time to think “before” you answer a question
Sometimes you think a question is difficult because you have not taken the time to really consider it. When you are asked a question that comes across as tricky to you, allow yourself time to think. Suppress the urge to answer to quickly or defend yourself immediately as doing so will only bring attention to the fact that you are not very confident in your response.
Repeat the Question
When presenting, a rule of thumb is to take an audience question and repeat it back to the person. Repeating the question does not only allow you and the rest of the audience to confirm that you heard the question correctly, it also gives you a chance to value the question and think of an answer, and sometimes also allows the person who asked the question to rethink the question and know opt to paraphrase.
Toss the question back to the audience
When you find yourself faced with a question that you are not sure how to respond to, most times you get very nervous and might even start to share ideas that may be out of point. Rather than let nerves take over, try tossing the questions back to your audience. For instance, you could say: “Does anyone here have any experience with that?” Throwing the question out to the audience gives room for the help to come from the audience. Even more, you will score more points with the audience as people love to be involved and share their knowledge. From contributions made, you can now summarize and even add your own ideas.
Answer the Question with a Question
Sometimes the question thrown at you might be a bit too vague and you need to narrow it down before you can offer an answer, other times the person may also know the answer to the question already and just needs a bit of coaching to arrive at it on their own. In these situations, it might be best to open the question up or close it down by asking a question in response. You could say something like: “It is clear that you are passionate about this topic, so what do you think?” In responding to the answer, the participant also feels involved and helpful.
Give a Parallel Answer
This usually works when you necessarily have to give an opinion. If you are not sure of the exact answer to the question, offer what you do know quickly to demonstrate some credibility and then combine with another of the tips shared above. Let’s say someone asks you a question regarding restrictions or laws in a particular location you are not conversant with, and they expect a quick answer, you can quickly say something like: “I know that is possible in Dubai. However, I’m not sure if that is available in Manama. I’m writing this question down. I’ll research it at the break and get back to you.” You have to be sharp and concise. Ensure you do not end up boring the questioner with your parallel knowledge.
You can say “I’ll Get Back to You”
There is not wrong with holding off on answering a question until you are ready or feel confident enough to do so. It usually helps to have a pencil and paper available for you to write down questions you can’t answer. Once you write down the question, tell the questioner exactly when you will get back to them…and make sure you follow up accordingly. You could decide to offer the answer during lunch on a 1-1 mini-coaching session, or you can just collect their name and phone number or address and promise to get back to them when you can. This strategy may seem like smoke and mirrors but in reality, it very powerful. It is. It gives you the opportunity to go the extra mile and impress your audience.
Truth be told, no presenter knows absolutely everything there is to know about their given specialty. There will certainly, be occasions when you will not able to answer every question posed to you – it’s only human, however, if you try applying these tricks, you might find it easier to scale through the difficult questions and impress your audience too.