I have noticed that many speakers dread the traditional Presentation Question Time slot at the end of their presentation. When I ask them why this is, the most common reasons given are:
- Fear of losing control
- Fear of being asked difficult questions
- Fear of not knowing the right answers
- Fear of making a fool of themselves
- Fear of nobody asking any questions
The importance of presentation question time
Audience questions play an important part in most educational or informative types of presentation, and it benefits both the audience and the presenter.
It gives the audience the opportunity to clarify anything that they are uncertain of, check their understanding and raise any concerns.
It gives the presenter a chance to assess the audience’s level of understanding and “buy in”, correct any misunderstandings, clarify and expand on points that are of particular importance to the audience.
How to prepare for the Q&A
Anticipate likely questions
It’s true that you can never anticipate every question, but that’s no excuse for not preparing for the most likely ones that may come up during presentation question time. Adopting an ostrich mentality by burying your head in the sand is a sure-fire recipe for failure.
Grab a piece of paper and a pen and think about your audience. If you were them, what would you want to know? What information would you need? What concerns or fears would you have? If possible, ask other people too.
When I was a young marketing assistant with Esso Chemicals, I attended an international meeting. At it, I and each of my opposite numbers from across Europe had to give a five-minute progress report on the implementation of a new piece of software in our country.
When my German colleague came up to speak, we all noted that he had more slides than was normal, but he didn’t use many of them. Afterwards, we descended on him and asked: “Why all the slides?” Looking slightly puzzled, he responded: “In case anyone asks the questions!” He had tried to anticipate every possible question and had prepared a slide to answer each one if it came up!
Set out the ground rules for the Q&A
Choosing the most appropriate time to take questions can be critical to the success of your presentation.
In general, there are three opportunities to allow questions. Make sure you select the most appropriate one for your situation, bearing in mind the pros and cons of each option.
- Anytime during the presentation
- At set intervals
- At the end
How to get more questions
It’s not always the presenter that is afraid of presentation question time. Audience members often feel reluctant to ask because:
- They feel under pressure to come up with a “good” question
- They are afraid that their question may be seen as “stupid” by the presenter or, worse still, their peers
- They are too embarrassed to admit that they didn’t understand something the presenter said
These emotions lead to that uncomfortable tumbleweed moment when the presenter asks “Are there any questions?” and is greeted with a wall of silence. As the presenter, it’s your job to do everything you can to prevent this. Here are some tips that I use.
Encourage questions in your opening
During my introduction piece, I usually include a few words about questions. I talk about their value, and I tell my audience that, in my book, there is no such thing as a stupid question. I also acknowledge how most people are afraid to ask questions for fear
of looking stupid. I explain that there is, in fact, nothing to fear. If they don’t understand something, there will almost certainly be others in the room who don’t understand it either but who are too afraid to ask. When you ask a question, you are helping others as well as yourself.
Make the questioner feel good
Another great way to encourage more questions is to “big up” the first people to ask.
Using a phrase like “What a fabulous question” makes the questioner feel validated and sends the message to everyone else that questions are genuinely welcomed here.
Question management - my top tips
- Tell the audience when they can ask questions
- Don’t allow questions to dominate the presentation
- Expect questions and prepare answers
- Listen carefully to the question and give yourself time to compose your response before replying
- If necessary, repeat the question to make sure everyone in the audience has heard it, before responding
- When you do answer, make sure that your reply takes in the group, but make deliberate eye contact with the questioner, and check back with them at the end
- Give positive answers or follow-up a negative response with a positive alternative. “That’s right it doesn’t do that; however, it can do ...”
- If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t guess or waffle. Either ask for help from another member of the team or make a note to get an answer to the questioner afterwards
Want more tips like these?
I recently updated and expanded my book The Presenter's Edge. It's packed full of practical tips to help you develop, design and deliver amazing presentations with confidence. Available now in paperback and Kindle formats via Amazon.