WHETHER presenting your budget to the executive team or presenting information in a classroom setting, listeners have come to expect time for a question-and-answer (Q&A) session.
It is their chance to get you to speak, particularly on controversial points. But in addition to meeting others’ expectations, Q&A periods benefit you, the presenter.
Questions provide feedback on how your presentation was received and give you a chance to clear up any misunderstandings.
The only problem is keeping them on track when things go south. The following tips may help you keep your poise during a heated Q&A:
Don’t set a time
To do so limits your flexibility and creates dangers along the way. If you announce that you will take questions for half an hour and you get only two questions, the audience walks away with the impression that you gave a disappointing presentation that did not generate the expected interest.
If you say that you will take another three questions and the third question is a hostile one, you may be forced to end on a negative note from which it will be difficult to recover.
Stay flexible simply by making a general statement that you will take a few questions before you wrap up. Then, if there are none or only a few, you are safe to go directly into your prepared closing.
And if you get a challenging question or if a negative issue surfaces, you can prolong the discussion until you can find an opportunity to bridge to a more positive closing note.
Reinforce your points
Responses such as, “I’m glad you brought up that issue because it gives me a chance to elaborate . . ,” are a way to align listeners’ questions with points you really want to emphasise.
You also can respond in a way that broadens or narrows the scope of a question’s focus.
“The issue that most of the region will be concerned with is X; therefore, let me answer in this broader context.”
Or, “Yes, that’s the big-picture problem, but let me bring it a little closer to home with the more specific issue of Y.”
So go in either direction to reinforce your key learning point or your key message in an executive briefing.
Keep it brief
This may be the most important tip of all. When you field a question, be brief. If you take 10 minutes to answer the first few questions, some participants may fear antagonising less interested participants by asking one that could lengthen your presentation by another half hour.
Take charge with your posture, body language, eye contact, vocal tone, and fresh comments. Do not be tentative. Project an attitude of anticipation, eagerness, and confidence. Communicate to the audience that you have come to deliver value — before you ever open your mouth.
Respond with poise
To say you cannot prepare for questions is to court disaster. The 10 most difficult types of questions are the hypothetical, the forced two-option, the long-winded, the limited interest, the “dumb”, the off-the-record, the show-off, the challenging/sceptical, the multiple and the hostile.
Although you may never anticipate an off-the-wall question from your executive vice-president about your current learning management system, you can prepare and practise the techniques to handle difficult questions well — and command respect for your abilities.