I won’t give a presentation because I’m petrified about answering questions.
I don’t like giving presentations, but I really dislike the Q&A session.
I never know what to say when asked a question, and end up rambling.
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld said, “Did you know that they say people fear public speaking more than they fear death? That means that more people would rather be inside the coffin than giving the eulogy!”
Many people fear giving presentations. Yet, as the above three quotes illustrate, there are people in my seminars who dislike the Q&A part of a presentation the most. They seem to dread losing control of the presentation, or being caught off guard.
Effectively answering questions in front of your audience builds your credibility. Master the following points so you appear poised and confident during the Q&A:
1. Prepare for questions. As you prepare your presentation, you also need to prepare for the questions you may be asked. Think about your topic and who is in your audience, and how they are likely to respond. Anticipate the questions and know how you will answer them.
2. Anticipate the tough questions. Think about what difficult, annoying or nasty questions you may be asked, and know how you will respond. Don’t just pray that someone won’t ask that question. Know how you will answer it.
3. Repeat the question before answering. This is hard to remember to do, but very important. You repeat the question for a number of reasons. The first is that when you repeat the question, it allows everyone to hear what was asked. You also gain a couple of seconds to get your thoughts together. And if the question is a hostile one, you can paraphrase the question and eliminate the hostility. For example, if the question is, “How come you are spending so much money on transportation for...,” you could paraphrase and say something like, “The question concerns the transportation budget.”
4. Don’t be a puppet on your audience’s string. If the audience is shouting questions at you, make sure you repeat the question you are about to answer. If you don’t, you are being controlled by the audience as you quickly answer one question after another. When you take the time to repeat the question, you gain control of the Q&A, as you are deciding which questions to address and in what order.
5. Look at the audience when answering the question. When you repeat the question, look at the person who asked it. But when you answer the question, look at the audience, to include them in the answer.
6. Don’t know the answer? Admit it. Even when you are well-prepared, there still may be times you are asked a question to which you don’t know the answer. When that happens, you can usually say, “I don’t know, but I will find out and get back to you.” And make sure you do.
7. Give your Best Educated Guess. Occasionally, there may be times when you don’t know the answer, but you have to respond. You can then give what I call your Best Educated Guess. This is not lying. It’s a general response without being specific. It is saying something like, “Based on my experience (or research, or knowledge of...), I assume the following would occur....” (But make sure it is your best educated guess – don’t go beyond the boundaries of what is plausible.)
8. Defer answering, if the answer to the question will be explained later in your talk. Often, you can say, “I am going to hold off answering that question as I will be discussing that topic in a few minutes.” Of course, if the CEO asked the question, you may want to answer it right away!
9. Don’t end abruptly. When the Q&A segment is nearing its end, prepare the audience. You can say something like, “I have time for one more question.” And after you answer that question, move on to your closing.
Additional information on presentations can be found in my book The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat and Tweet Your Way to Success
Pachter & Associates provides seminars and coaching on business presentations, writing, professional presence, etiquette and communication. For additional information, please contact Joyce Hoff at firstname.lastname@example.org or 856.751.6141.