Handling Questions & Answers in Your Presentation

by Danielle Dalton
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You’ve mastered your presentation. You know what to say. You feel confident that your slides hit all the major points. Yet, the one thing you can’t seem to stop worrying about is the potential questions the audience may ask. Whether your audience is your company’s executive leadership team or a couple hundred people at a seminar, questions can be nerve wracking for anyone. Here’s six tips to allow you to conquer the question and answer situation without breaking a sweat.

Establish the Format
Before you even get to the day of the big talk, think of how you want to handle the question and answer portion of the presentation. Can people ask questions throughout the presentation or is it better to have a more formal question and answer session at the conclusion of your presentation? Most likely, this will be a function of the nature of your presentation. Company executives in a small group will be comfortable asking questions as they think of them, while a larger group would benefit from having a formal session at the conclusion, so someone isn’t interrupting you every few seconds.

When you begin your presentation, be sure to share with your audience how you plan to handle questions. For example, you can simply state, “Feel free to stop me and ask questions throughout the presentation,” before you begin your talk. By informing your audience of the plan, you establish a level of authority and remain in control of the situation, boosting your confidence.

Think of Potential Questions Ahead of Time
Be prepared for questions. While you can’t possibly think of the answer to every single question that may be presented to you, you can think of some. What topics do you not have enough time to cover fully in your presentation? The audience may wish for more information on these topics, so think of what other information you could share that they would find useful.

Similarly, do you present any complex topics? The audience might require an additional explanation to fully understand intricate subjects. Alternatively, if you share a new or radical idea—such as a new discovery from your research or a very different strategic path for your company—be prepared to answer questions about it.

Avoid Awkward Silences
If you decide to hold questions until the end of your presentation (and remember this is your choice!), but instead of questions, you hear crickets chirping in the silence, ask your own question and then answer it. Begin, “A question that people often ask me is…” Proceed with one of the questions you’ve prepared an answer to in advance and spend time answering the question. Doing so will give the audience time to think and also make them feel comfortable asking you questions.

Work the Crowd
Even though only one person is asking a question, be sure to address the whole group with your response. Otherwise, it will come across as you just having a conversation with one individual. To engage the entire audience, after an individual poses a question, paraphrase the question to the entire audience. This will make sure everyone in the audience knows the question and also ensure that you remember the question you’re supposed to be answering. When you respond to the question, be sure to make eye contact with others in the audience, not just the individual who asked the question. This will ensure that you keep everyone in the audience engaged throughout the entire question and answer session, rather than just the few who pose questions.

Don’t let Dissenters Rain on Your Parade
Depending on the nature of your presentation, you may find that someone in the audience fundamentally doesn’t agree with your points. Diversity in opinions isn’t always a bad thing—but in a question and answer session, it can seem like a disaster as an individual launches an attack against your views. Remain calm. If you try to refute the points and it is clear that the individual will never see things from your perspective, don’t let him/her derail your presentation. State calmly, “Thank you for your opinion. I know not everyone sees things the same way as me, but this is what I’ve found to be true or what I believe.” Take a deep breath, maintain control, and move onto the next question.

While all situations are different and yours may require a slightly different approach from the one above. Remember to above all remain calm and handle all situations with professionalism.

Finish on a Strong Note
After all questions have been posed, avoid finishing your presentation by saying, “Well I guess that’s it, if there aren’t any additional questions.” You worked hard on your presentation! Don’t finish with awkward silence! Once you’ve asked if there are any other questions and waited to see if any last minute ones are posed, provide a one or two sentence summary of your main presentation points. Then, thank the audience for their time and tell them how they can get in touch with you if they have any additional comments or questions. Put your contact information (email address, website, and/or social media profiles) on your last slide, so people can see it and copy it down.

These tips will help make the question and answer session a little less daunting. Remember, though, no matter what, you’re smarter than you think. You know much more about your presentation topic than you realize. You’ll be able to handle the questions with ease and grace, if you remain positive and confident!

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Danielle Dalton