How and when to answer questions in a presentation

This vlog is about questions in a presentation – how to consider them, when to place a Q&A session and how to answer them.

Questions in a presentation

Here’s the summary if you don’t have the opportunity to watch the video.

‘Are there any questions?’

There is an art to both answering and where to put your question time in a presentation.

It’s a fairly typical situation where someone might deliver a presentation or a talk, and then they end up by going…

Phew, thank goodness that formal bits all over.

‘Are there any questions?’

How and when to deal with questions in a presentation

And either there’s that really embarrassing silence where, you don’t hear a word, nobody says anything, and there’s a slightly panicked look on the speaker’s face. Everyone feels a little bit anxious and embarrassed.

Or there’s a flurry of questions, some of which the speaker can answer, and often does at length. And the organiser’s busy looking at their watch because the time is ticking on, and some people in the audience are thinking, ‘come on’.

Or there’s just this massive discussion that happens, which is highly exciting, very energising, but has lost total control over the timing on possibly even the event.

So there’s lots of issues aren’t there, about how and when we deal with questions?

Here are some thoughts that might be helpful for you when you’re thinking about question time.

Plan for questions

The first thing is plan for questions in a presentation.

Rather than just think well, they’ll ask whatever they ask and either be delighted about that or be anxious about that. Actually spend some time thinking about it.

My top tip advice will be to write down all of the questions that anyone could possibly be interested in asking you. From the very obvious, the very straightforward ones to the really, really awful ones that you would absolutely die a little bit on the inside if anybody asks them.

That’s useful because the very, very obvious ones you might look at and think, do you know what? I need to answer that in the body of the talk. I can’t leave that to chance for somebody to ask it. So that helps you with the content of your talk as well.

And then that you would die where you think, ‘I hope no one ever asks me’. At least you can think through a strategy for dealing with that question, should it be asked. Whether you have to go and find out a piece of information, you have to work out an answer, or you need to go and research an answer. Or you are prepared to say, ‘I’m not going to answer that question in here. Let’s have a conversation about it later.’

Planning for your questions helps you with your content and it also gives you more confidence.

Plan where your Q&A session is in your talk

Second thing, rather than end on your question time, where either you just tail off, or you try to answer a question and it doesn’t go very well. You think, ‘geez, I’m not taking any more questions here’.

And you’re leave the audience with a view of you not articulating very well or not feeling very comfortable, or confident in your answer. Or even worse falling out with one of the audience members!

So rather than leave with that, make sure that you put your q and a in before your final thought or before another piece of value that you want to offer in your presentation.

So it goes something like this…

Your getting towards the end of your presentation and you say ‘before my final thought’, or ‘before we finish this afternoon’ or ‘before we leave this meeting, are there any questions?’

And that way, people know that it’s a finite time, you’ve got more control over it. And once the Q and A is over or you want to draw it to a close, you’ve still got something of value. People will keep on listening. You’ll keep their attention all the way through right to the very end rather than losing people one way or the other.

Acknowledging the question

The third tip is to make sure you acknowledge questions, even if it’s a dead easy question.

Acknowledge it because it gives your brain time to get into gear.

You know that thing where sometimes you open your mouth and something comes out without the brain being in gear. Well when you acknowledge a question, such as:

thank you very much for that question.

Oh, gosh, that’s an interesting question.

That question’s going to make me think hard.

it gives your brain time to get into gear.

Check you’ve understood the question

Check your understanding of the question. So sometimes people ask questions in a very bizarre way and you need to just make sure that you’re answering the right question.

Sometimes people don’t ask you a question. They just want some airtime themselves and they’re giving a statement, in which case you could say ‘that sounds like a statement, what’s the question?’

You may not want to say quite as rudely as that, but that’s the intention.

This also might buy you a little bit time to be working out your answer.

And if you’re in a very big audience, you might want to repeat it. By repeating that question, you are confirming that you’ve understood correctly, but you’re also making sure that everyone else in the audience understands what that question is. So you’re priming them to listen to the answer as well.

Speak to everyone in the room

Which leads me on to the next bit, which is always address your answer to the whole of the audience, not just to the person who’s asked the question. If you only address it to the person who’s asked the question, you’ll end up with a discussion, a one on one discussion potentially. But also everybody else switches off. Include them and if possible, make reference to them if you know them, so that everybody is included and that question time becomes part of your presentation, not an add on to it.

And then obviously, answer the question.

Handling awkward questions

My fourth tip is if a question is either inappropriate, too complex, has a personal or political agenda behind it, or you don’t know the answer, then it’s far better to deal with that directly than it is to try and work out a complicated and complex path to answer it.

It is quite acceptable to take that question out of your presentation to deal with at a later date. If it is a very complex answer that might be very specific to your particular circumstances you could say,

‘Let’s have a conversation after today’s presentation’

‘I don’t know the answer to that one. And I will find out the answer’.

Now we know that people say that quite glibly, but if you genuinely mean it, genuinely say it, and of course make sure that you do find out the answer, and you do follow-up.

If you couldn’t have anticipated it, then it’s actually okay, to say,

‘I haven’t thought of that’ or ‘I haven’t got the correct information to hand with that one’ or even ‘I don’t know the answer to that one’.

Be open, and honest, and very human about it.

Answered your questions about questions?

I hope that this is a helpful scoot through how and when to answer your questions in a presentation.

Of course, if you have any questions that you want to ask about questions or indeed anything to do with speaking, then please get in touch.