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

Walk the Talk

How do you prepare a speech? Consider the difference if you write for the ear or the eye; each requires a different mind set and approach. Both need active verbs and vital language to hold attention.

With presentations you engage the audience. Speak naturally.

To prepare a presentation

This works for me to create a natural rather than stilted style:

  • Brainstorm what points I will cover.
  • Walk with my notes as I speak it through (I’m blessed with paths amongst trees and by beaches).
  • Tape on my iPad notes function.
  • Email this as text to my computer, to be edited and polished.
  • With the printout I walk and speak it through to the birds. I discover clunky phrases and words that invite stumbles. As my tongue finds a vivid sentence I talk it into my iPad.
  • I time it on my iPhone as my walking pace matches thoughts and words.
  • Before a big speech I walk the talk to memorise crucial opening and closing senences. (Automaton saved me when an MC skipped my submitted biog and introduced me as ‘Ruth Cracknell.’ Gulp. Que?@#!? But on with the speech.)

Activate both brain hemispheres

Walking is a cross-crawl action, that allows us to unlock brain power and encourages a mix of logical and creative thinking.

‘When we walk, the two halves of our brains converse.’ Julia Cameron Walking in This World.

Follow the paths of pilgrims and philosophers

For philosophers like Kant, Rousseau and Nietzsche walking was daily discipline. Gandhi and Mandela walked with the masses for freedom. Jesus Christ walked as He taught his disciples. For indigenous Aborigines and American Indians their bare foot ‘walkabouts’ made contact with the land.

Walk to focus and problem solve.speakoutmedium

‘It is solved by walking.’ – St Augustine

‘All truly great ideas are conceived while walking’ – Nietzsche

Begin with the Brainstorm

Last week as I coached someone for his presentation skills, I noticed yet again the necessity to help him write his speech before we could solve performance aspects.

We began in relaxed conversation to understand issues he planned to address.

We wrote bullet points on a white board.

As he passed through that initial stumbling exploratory stage and began to fire with enthusiasm, thoughts flowed naturally. At that point I taped him on my iPad, and emailed the file. The content was fresh with flow, focus and passion. He could then edit and polish.

Big speech coming up? 

Email for speechwriting and coaching in presentation skills, training.

But it’s tomorrow!

Download my 90-minute read Speak Out: Don’t Freak Out

Your speaking can flow with ease so your experience, expertise and natural enthusiasm shine through.


Skills to speak/write short

Have you found that it’s easier to speak or write SHORT than LONG? Speakers must be tight with timing to not disadvantage the next presenters. So we edit, prune, prepare, practise. But try 5 minutes! 

When chosen to pitch a manuscript at Byron Bay Writers Festival I determined to give it my all.  And a picture tells 1000 words, right? My PowerPoint presentation shone with photographs and evocative music. I bought my own data projector to avoid tech meltdown, enlisted a techie to help me craft a streamlined presentation. 

Heed advice from experts

At a workshop a few days before, Stephanie, Jill and Lisa critiqued us and gave invaluable advice; it was challenging, honest and brutal where needed. They looked askance when I arrived lugging tech gear and props.

  • No PowerPoint. What if there’s a glitch, you might waste half your precious five minutes. ‘Couldn’t I cut back the slides to just a few?’ (Whimpers) ‘Please?’
  • No, because attention is divided between your face and the screen. Just speak.(Tactful but firm). Hmm, good point.

Learning to let go

They were right. This, my first pitch, was an exercise in letting go, in listening, in faith. I’d be foolish to ignore astute, sound, expert advice, so booked a coaching session with Stephanie. She tolerated my minimalist PowerPoint version, then reached for my laptop. Cut, cut, cut, paste. (‘Can’t I keep that story?’) Cut, add, paste, cut. A tight but flowing version emerged. My style had become staccato in its efforts to save valuable seconds: I had opted for two-syllable words as opposed to four. Her priority was clarity. She brought my pitch to five minutes exact. 

On the day 

I spoke first of five strong contenders. Slow deep breathing beforehand. As I do. Added a few ad libs. So the bell caught me off guard. (With PowerPoint, I note the number of the last slide so I can skip content if necessary.) I’d indicated the usual four-minute mark on my text, but forgot my own advice: 

• ‘Tab sections/sentences that can be dropped if time runs short.’ 

My revised pitch gave freedom to express through verbal, facial and body language. Though not the winner, I emerged positive, wiser and grateful. I value the opportunity to be heard, and to learn in the process. 

Nothing is wasted

I’ve since filmed it into a book trailer that’s up on YouTube. My next presentation for my book-in-progress Burn My Letters allows 30 minutes – ample scope for slides!
It will be at the Institute for Migration in Finland in May.

Prepare to shine

Prepare – get feedback – revise – get coaching – prepare, prepare, prepare. 

I’m available for one-on-one coaching – or I recommend Stephanie!

P.S. Three of my books are available on Amazon kindle including Speak Out.