Even if your presentation has been executed with the flair of an accomplished TED speaker, you may still feel your nerves getting the better of you when it comes to taking questions. But when you are giving a business presentation, the ability to handle ‘off the cuff’ questions in a professional and effective manner is an important skill you’ll need. Paul Carroll, an expert public speaker from Toastmasters International, has the following advice to for those of you who find yourselves in this situation: eight tips to help you develop the skills of handling the impromptu question:
#1 Pause before you reply
Carroll says that pausing before you reply is the easiest and fastest way to bring your nerves under control. Pausing also gives you the time to consider your response and the opportunity to reflect on the best way to structure your answer.
#2 Understand the question
If you only think you understand the question, it’s a good idea to check by asking the questioner to either repeat or clarify it. According to Carroll, most questions will be requests for information not present in your speech or requests for further clarification on issues such as costs and deadlines. If you don’t have the answer to a question, let the questioner know that you will need to get back to him at by a specified date in order to obtain all the information you need to give him the answer he requires.
#3 Deal with tricky questions
If the question is, in fact, a statement, simply thank the contributor for his contribution, says Carroll. You should then proceed to ask for questions from elsewhere in your audience. You may be asked a question with multiple parts, in which case Carroll advises that you choose the parts to address. You can also let the questioner that you will come back to the other parts of the question if there’s time. The choice of whether to answer them is then yours, Carroll says.
#4 Stay in control
Professionals must retain their composure at all times, so it is vital to portray an image of someone who’s in control. It is particularly important not to respond emotionally to an emotionally-loaded question. Carroll suggests paraphrasing the question into a form that you feel happier answering, for example, you could say:
“I believe the crux of your question here is whether…”
Asking for written questions in advance of the presentation is a good idea he says. He recommends having any questions written down on index cards placed on seats and which are then later collected and categorized by a colleague during your speech or presentation.
#5 Questions you can’t answer
If you’re asked a question you are unable to answer, Carroll suggests in the first instance reflecting on why you are unable to answer it. His best policy is honesty: if a question is outside your sphere of work, say so. He also recommends deferring the answer if you are of the view that you can answer the question, but do not have all the information you need to answer it on the spot.
#6 Prepare a structure
Carroll suggests using any of the following of his ‘answer structures’ during your public speeches to respond to questions:
- PREP: State your Point, then your Reason, followed by an Example of your Point.
- Timeline: Describe the previous situation, what must be done now and the future direction.
- Problem-Solution: Describe a relevant problem and outline the solution
- Pros & Cons: Discuss the advantages and disadvantages: which outweighs the other?
- Procedure: Talk about the key stages of a process.
Ensure you are familiar with the frequently asked questions in your industry or job. Carroll suggests practising your answers to these with a friend or in any other safe environment where there are “no consequences for a bad answer.”
Empathy is always useful in presentations/speeches, especially those which are likely to provoke difficult or hostile questions (for example, forced layoffs). By seeing the question or situation from your audience’s point of view, you’re likely to be met with a more measured interaction that’s less driven by emotion, and you will find it easier to answer your questions in a sensitive manner.
See Also: Presenting Tips: 4 Rules of Engagement
As the well-used axiom tells us, planning prevents poor performance, so I hope these tips will help.
Do you have any good tips for handling impromptu questions? If so, please share them in the comments box below…