Most business and professional presentations will include some time for questions from the audience. This period can often make or break a presentation. Responding to questions with confidence and authority will help build your credibility as an expert. You’ll want to avoid the awkward silence sometimes associated with the Q & A period. For example, some presenters avoid the phrase “Are there any questions?” because they feel it puts the audience on the spot to immediately start supplying questions. Alternative phrasing might include “What can I explain more fully?” “What would you like more information about?” and “Where can I fill in some details?” However you choose to frame the Q & A, remember that you can respond to even “difficult” questions with the right tools.
Here are ten strategies to help you negotiate the question period effectively and professionally
1. Announce how and when you will answer questions
That way, if you’re interrupted, you can say, “I’ll be glad to return to that question at the end of my presentation. Please be sure to remind me to do that.”
2. Be prepared
You should already have thought about the three most difficult questions your audience could ask and prepared an answer for each. You can usually anticipate points of disagreement and objections. When you can respond directly, the "difficult” questions become less difficult.
3. Use your audience as a resource
People enjoy giving advice and by soliciting their opinion, you’ve enlisted them as allies. Use a phrase such as “Before I give my input, does anyone in the audience have experience with this issue you’d be willing to contribute?”
4. Admit when you don’t know something
It’s OK that you’re not an expert on everything. If the question doesn’t fall within your area of expertise, you might respond with “Rather than give you anything less than 100 percent accurate information, let me research it more thoroughly and I’ll get back to you with a detailed answer.” This strategy also provides a built-in follow up mechanism for further contact.
5. Answer only one question at a time
Participants will sometimes string together several questions at once. Be sure to separate them and answer first the question for which you have the best response. You can justify your choice because you’ve been “working on something similar,” that’s where you have the “most experience” or that will have the “broadest appeal to everyone in the audience.”
6. Change the scope of the question when it’s necessary
If you can best demonstrate your expertise with details, answer a broad question with a specific example. If your forte is a bigger picture view, take a specific question and show how it applies to many situations.
7. Don’t make your Q & A part of the program at the very end
Save some piece of your conclusion to insert after the Q & A. You want to finish your presentation in control and leave the audience with a positive impression.
8. Determine the reason for the question
Questions are sometimes genuine requests for information and sometimes thinly veiled attempts to make you look bad. When it’s the latter, deflect such attempts by responding, “So that I can be completely responsive, let me ask your interest in knowing this.”
9. Repeat the question
This gives other audience members who had difficulty hearing a chance to catch up and affords you some extra time to compose your answer.
10. Make certain there’s really a question
People sometimes use the Q & A to make statements or deliver mini lectures. If the question goes on for more than a minute, politely ask the person to state the question so you can respect the time of the other audience members.
While a Q & A period usually constitutes a routine part of the overall presentation, there’s no reason it needs to cause apprehension or anxiety. The keys to handling it effectively include preparing ahead and maintaining control. Put these ten strategies into play and you’ll be recognized as the professional you are, and the sought after expert.
© Peak Communication Performance. Excerpted from Rainmaking Presentations: How To Grow Your Business by Leveraging Your Expertise, available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com. Download the first chapter at www.RainMakingPresentations.com. Affluent Magazine’s Presentation Expert, Joseph Sommerville, Ph.D., shows professionals how to design, develop and deliver effective presentations. Ask him to show your organization how to create more persuasive presentations and you’ll discover why better communication means more business. Contact him at Sommerville@RainMakingPresentations.com.