Tips to handle questions

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.

What if no one asks?speakoutmedium

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.

Handling hostility

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

To Comment or ‘No Comment’

How to dodge bullet questions without those lethal words ‘No comment’? In tough Media interviews or post-presentation Q and A, how to avoid without sounding evasive or flaky? How to present the company position without being trapped into corners?

We tackled this hot topic in my recent Media Skills training. (I enjoyed working with these Rural Financial Counsellors, who assist those in tough situations.)

A picture tells 1000 words

People groan ‘not another PowerPoint!’ Enliven with (relevant) pictures. So at midnight before that day’s training I’m adding family photos of outback Australia to my slides.

Next day I’ll dress up to detract from bleary eyes – pearls will help.

Give reasons. I can’t comment because: 

  • ‘As this is not my portfolio I would refer you instead to Joe Bloggs.’
  • ‘I’m not familiar with that research so will leave it to those who are.’
  • ‘This matter is under investigation’ or ‘For legal reasons…’
  • ‘It is a complex situation and warrants XYZ…’
  • ‘I agree in part but won’t respond to hypotheticals. If you’re asking about QRS I can say…’
  • ‘My brief evaluation is LMN but others are better qualified to respond.’
  • ‘Your premise has some validity but STU…’
  • ‘I don’t yet have the full picture so will reserve judgment until then.’

Sincere thanks for the training program you conducted with my team. It put forward some views that people seldom consider. At an important meeting since then, they were well prepared, relaxed, and gave so much practical information that the meeting was extended.’
Shirley McNaughton, Executive Officer
Rural Financial Counselling Service NSW – Northern Region

How it’s done

British PM Cameron dodged a press conference question about the US-China deal to reduce carbon emissions. He wanted to see ‘more detail’ before making a judgment.

On the global stage

The G20 Brisbane heat abated after a week of celebrity and jet spotting. (Why don’t dignitaries plane pool to help save the planet? Were President Obama’s ex-forum comments appropriate?)

Constructive face-to-face meetings warmed friendships–often through non-verbal cues of body language and voice tone as much as words. Photo and metaphor beamed powerful messages around the world.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s vow to shirtfront Vladimir Putin brought a memorable concept to international diplomacy. It sent media into frenzies of:

Will he-won’t he-did he-don’t he?

(Spellcheck, you don’t get the impact of rhyme and rhythm.)

Top leaders joined Team Abbott to kick that ball after an inappropriate media skit. Which could lessen sympathy for ABC cuts of rural and regional programs, that deny voice to battlers in the ‘outback’.

Bear Diplomacy won friends

  • Vladimir Putin smiled while cuddling a koala, pronounced his hosts efficient and friendly but fled the heat.
  • Indian Prime Minister Modi gave Tony Abbott enthusiastic bear hugs.
  • Angela Merkel enjoyed our beer with locals.

Communication challenges

Merkel is tech savvy. ‘You can’t use two at once’ she advised when a microphone and live translation earpiece set up banshee wailing.

International conferences challenge communication even when the major language is English – my salvation when presenting in Finland.

Build your presentation confidence with training or coaching.