The moment most presenters dread is when you are in the middle of your sales pitch and a couple of hands go up from people with questions. You don’t know what they are going to ask, whether you’ll know the answer, if you’ll look silly or incompetent and lose the sale. What do you do?

Here are some simple tips that can get you through the tough situations:


Handling questions

Take control of the process and tell the customers when they can ask questions — at the end of the presentation or at particular points during the presentation. Decide what works best for you.

Prepare in advance — think of the questions that will probably come up and prepare your answers. Having analysed the customer, you should have some idea now what the typical objections will be so have answers ready to tackle these

Listen to the full question — do not interrupt halfway through and assume you know what they’re going to ask

“Listen” to the body language — is it defensive, what cues can you pick up from how they are asking the question or the gestures they are making?

Think about your own body language. Although you may feel defensive when someone asks a question, keep your gestures open — with arms at your side, direct eye contact, smile, lean forward.

Answering questions

Repeat the question back to ensure you have understood. If you don’t know the answer, say so. Do not try and muddle your way through the answer or make something up — your body language will give you away and someone else may know the actual answer and you will lose all credibility.

If you don’t know the answer, open it up to the group and see if anyone else knows. This is known as Boomerang — where you boomerang the question back to the group.

If you’re not good at “thinking on your feet”, this can also give you a chance to think about the answer. Answer it by saying, “Great question! What do the rest of the group think? Would anyone like to share their thoughts?”

If you don’t know and no one else knows either, have a “Parking Lot” for the questions (could be a flipchart on the wall or just your notepad) and commit to finding out the answer for them.

When replying to a question, involve the whole audience — begin eye contact with the questioner, then the other audience members and back to the questioner at the end of the answer.

Dealing with objections

Keep calm – you can handle this. If things become difficult to handle, politely suggest that the conversation be taken offline.

If you feel someone is deliberately trying to challenge you, then you could use humour. Be very careful though as it can come across as sarcasm and you may appear defensive

Do not deflect the criticism or blame another colleague — it will seem your company is not working as a team or communicating well.

Even if an objection is not based on anything you have done, accept the feedback on behalf of your company in an appropriate manner.

Do not agree with or join in any maligning of the company — your job is to represent the business and you must safeguard its name and reputation. Be professional at all times.

Be conscious of your body language and facial expressions — keep your gestures open and your face neutral. Avoid eye-rolling, frowns and smirking, this will only antagonise the objectioner.

Be attentive while the objection is being made — actively listen with head nods and direct eye contact. If the other audience members become restless, manage them and ask them to be quiet (respectfully, of course!).

Do be conscious of the group though and if the objection is taking a lot of time or the person is being argumentative, then take control and suggest taking it off-line (see previous examples).

Some other things to consider if you’re put on the spot:

* Nonverbal cues can help restore order and make you appear calm…. even if you’re not;

* Strong eye contact;

* Upright posture;

* Unwavering focus;

* The more animated your “opponent” becomes, the calmer you should be;

* Keep vocal inflection to a minimum, talk neutrally; and

* Keep focused on the key messages you want to deliver – if you get a difficult question, repeat your main point and do not waffle, keep to the areas you are comfortable talking about.

The key to making that sale is keeping your composure, remaining focused on the task at hand and using good communication skills, especially listening, to make sure you understand any underlying issues and can deal with them appropriately.