By Daniel Hunter
You’ve given your presentation. It’s gone brilliantly. You ask if there are any questions, and over the next few minutes your smile begins to fade as you are caught off guard by a series of tricky and complicated questions from the audience.
Your failure to answer them convincingly undoes much of the good work you had carefully built up during your speech. How did it all suddenly go so wrong?
Anthony Garvey from Toastmasters International has a few tips to help you deal with difficult questions when giving a presentation.
1) When you’ve finished preparing your presentation, sit with a blank sheet of paper and write down and answer some easy questions you think you may be asked. Then tackle some of the more difficult questions you can think of. Ask a trusted friend or spouse to listen to your speech and get them to ask you some other questions too. Importantly you should also ask them to give you feedback on your answers to their questions.
2) Anticipating in advance the mood of the audience is important. If you expect the atmosphere to be tense or confrontational then allocate more time to preparing the Q&A session.
3) A good idea to start off a Q&A session is to get the person who introduced you to ask the first question, a pre-agreed question for which you are fully prepared. Another tip is to ask and answer the first question yourself. This allows you to set the agenda.
4) Listen carefully during the Q&A session for the hidden agenda question which can often pop up. Don’t dismiss or brush off these questions. Listen carefully and you will be able to answer both their initial query and address the underlying problem.
5) From time to time we are all asked questions we don’t know the answer to or even worse, are asked questions we feel we ought to know the answer to, but don’t. It is best in these circumstances to be honest and open, rather than bluff or waffle.
Perhaps a suitable response might be: “I don’t have that information to hand right now, but if you leave your contact details with me, I will send it through to you later today.”
6) Pause. Pausing for a few seconds to consider your reply before leaping straight into an answer may feel unnatural at first, but with practice it can give you the extra seconds you need to formulate a coherent reply.
7) When the Q&A session has finished ideally you should be the last person to leave the room, giving you time to address any final concerns people may have on a one-to-one basis.
8) Finally joining a public speaking club such as Toastmasters can be a great way to practice presentation skills in a safe and encouraging environment.
In particular taking part in impromptu speaking session (often known as table topics) where a member is asked to speak for up to two minutes on a subject they have not previously seen is great preparation for answering difficult questions. Taking part in these activities allows speakers to develop their ability to organise their thoughts quickly, an essential weapon in a speaker’s armoury when mastering the Q&A session.
By following these tips you may not shield yourself from a completely unforeseen landmine of a question, but the act of preparing in itself will put you in the right frame of mind to come up with the best answer you can at the time.
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