Whether it is Q&A time, or just a question that pops up when you are in full flow, being asked a question is the one area of your presentation you can never fully prepare. A challenging question, or even potentially ‘difficult’ person, can sometimes really throw you off, or create a risk that it all suddenly goes sideways.
So here is how to take control and demonstrate that you are the consummate, confident professional when handling questions.
So, a question is asked……
STOP. Do not answer it! Pause, nod, smile.
Say “Thank you. That is a fantastic/great/important/really interesting question”
[Code: Fantastic = that is my very next topic; Great = I am getting to that in a little while; Important = damn I have no clue, I really should have thought of that; Really interesting = seriously? You’re asking this now, really?]
Repeat the question back. “So, your question is…….?”
This gives you valuable thinking time, it also ensures all the audience heard the question and just occasionally, even though you exactly repeated back, the questioner then says, ‘no, what I said was….” In which case repeat steps 2 and 3 again.
Choose your options:
Get to it later. If you really are getting to it later, then say that you are, and state that ‘we will return to this question then’. check this is OK With the questioner, who will usually be fine. (If not, see notes below on ‘difficult’ people)
Ask the questioner what the answer is. This can be the perfect approach, often a question is consciously or unconsciously used as a way of making a point. Whatever they then say, you thank them once again and either agree, or if you don’t agree, say ‘that is certainly one way of looking at it, AND (never BUT) then share with them your own point of view. NOTE: Never tell the questioner they are wrong, do not say ‘No’ or ‘But’. Or even ‘you’re wrong!’ Your job is to present your case, not to get into a debate or argument with members of your audience, which rarely ends up well for you or them.
Ask the audience. Especially useful if you don’t have a clue in that moment, or need more thinking time. “That is a really important point and so what do you all think about that?” Also, useful with difficult questioners, because sometimes the audience will step in and correct them for you. You may need to moderate the debate if this happens (see ‘difficult people’.
Take it offline. “Thank you, that really is something I would like to explore more. How about we take that offline in the next break, or at the end of the session, how would that be?” Be open to debate about the best way to take it offline (not the fact of taking it offline – see difficult people again).
Defer it. “Thank you, I don’t have all the information on that right now and I would like to come back to you/the audience later on that, how would that be?” In which case, you had better do that.
Mix n Match. You can mix and match from all of these and keep using as appropriate.
Answer it! Almost forgot this one. And of course, no need to answer at all, if you chose any of the above, unless you really really want to, that is.
Extras: Apparently ‘Difficult’ People
Are they really ‘difficult’? Remember it could be you in the audience and you have an important perspective to raise, or don’t like what you are hearing, or whatever it is. Simply recognize that you could be that person.
What matters most is respect and empathy. As the confident professional presenter, you are not there to have a public debate or argument with someone. You have a core message, you have the information to back it up and you have the recommendation, or next steps to get to. That is your focus.
You are also in control in that moment, you are running the session – do not lightly give that away.
Here are the top tips:
The audience member who disagrees with you
Do not disagree back. Use this structure or words to this effect:
“I -respect/appreciate/agree with -how you feel/your intentions - about that, AND I am sure you will agree it is important we work out the best solution/ way forward. So, let’s work through the information we have and we can review the next steps together at the end. How would that be?”
The audience member you disagree with
“Thank you, that is certainly one way of looking at this AND I want to ensure we explore all the perspectives here. Let me now share the rest of what I have and then we can see at the end what the group thinks. How about that?”
The person who questions your credibility
Thank them. Share that this is your perspective, or your experience. Invite them to test or experiment for themselves. Move on.
The ‘Yes, but..’ person
Whatever you say, they keep saying “Yes, but…”
Say “Thank you. AND I am sure you will agree it is important we move on now and explore the best way forward at the end. So now, moving on…”
[By the way, please don’t you become a “Yes, but…” person. They have no friends. Become a “Yes, and…” person instead.]
That’s it. Keep practicing. Test all out for yourself and find out what works best for you.