Even experienced presenters can struggle with a question from left field. And alienate listeners if they stonewall or become defensive.
“Are there any questions?”
Part of your speech preparation is to jot down potential queries and practise appropriate answers.
People may be shy of speaking or not ready to verbalise. Listeners use a different part of the brain when absorbing content.
• Give time; “While I drink a glass of water, think if you have any questions to ask me.” That water will also help you to think fast if someone lobs a curly one! in which case draw on the POWER OF THE PAUSE. Reflect.
• Clear the fog with: “Often I’m asked …”
• Plant a colleague in the hall, primed with a question you know inside out. This breaks ice and triggers other questions.
• Loosen them up with “Turn to the person next to you and discuss…”
Handling Tricky Questions
If you can’t answer, it’s better to admit it openly than to tangle yourself up in convoluted attempts. People appreciate honesty: “I don’t think I could do justice to that without research. Let’s follow up later.”
Or “I’m not prepared to answer that at present; could someone else enlarge on it?”
Remember, you are the expert. Most couldn’t match your command of the topic.
Dodge inelegant public power-struggles which will alienate the rest of the audience.
• Drop your shoulders, take a deep breath and a drink of water.
• Listen carefully to their points, looking to agree on some common ground.
• Empathy helps to defuse possible aggression and maintains rapport with listeners.
• Remain objective.
• Maintain a neutral, even voice. Curb emotive language.
• See it as an opportunity to re-state your position: “Let me clarify my point.”
• Find a source of agreement: “I understand that you do agree with me on …”
• Deal with a threatening point briefly and call for the next question.
Manage Grandstanders and Big-Noters
An “on-edge” presenter may mis-read an enthusiastic question as an effort to trip. Most wheelbarrow pushers will desist once they have their quota of attention. If they try to turn it into a debate, suggest following up the discussion later rather than take time from others’ questions.
Phrases like “Perhaps you might briefly share your expertise with us …” defer to their knowledge while giving yourself time to marshal your own thoughts.
[Excerpt from Speak Out – Don't Freak Out; Public speaking with confidence
available as hardcopy book and eBook]
Need help with coaching and speech/blog writing? Email Ruth