How to answer questions in your presentation

Have you ever had a really important presentation for work or for your academic studies? You spend days (or even weeks) preparing for the presentation - researching for content, creating beautiful slides to support your content and practicing what you'll be saying.

The day comes and you're so ready for it. When you begin your presentation, things go smoothly. Until five minutes into it, somebody raises their hand and interrupts you with a question. You are taken by surprise. You answer the question, or say that you'll be taking questions after your presentation, and you continue.

But now you've lost your focus and momentum. You might feel a little less confident because the answer you gave was something that you had prepared for later in your presentation.

So what's the best way to prepare for and answer questions in a presentation? Here are a few tips to help you.

1. Prepare for questions beforehand

This doesn't mean that you should prepare the questions yourself. This means that during the whole process of preparing for the presentation, you should decide on this: Will I be taking questions after the presentation or during the presentation? Whether you choose to take questions before or after the presentation, you must tell the audience this before you start. This will help to set the stage for you and your listeners.

2. When you're taking questions, listen and understand the full question(s)

It's common for people to ask more than one question at a time (they may have been compiling them throughout your presentation). So listen to each one carefully. If it's too much for you to remember, you can request they ask one question and continue with the next one once you're done answering the first.

It's also common for people to ask long-winded questions as they're thinking on their feet. Listen until they finish before you start looking for your answer. Once they're done, you can then rephrase their question so that you're both on the same page.

For example, you can say "So what you're asking is ..... Is that right?"

If you don't understand what they're asking for, you can further probe them to get to the core of their question. Make a conclusion of what you understand, and ask them to clarify their question again. "So you mentioned ... Can you please clarify how I can address your question again?"

3. Handling questions that are off-topic or difficult

Now sometimes you may be confronted with questions that are outside of the scope of your presentation. First of all, listen to the person until she finishes speaking. If you find that the question is irrelevant, you can say, "I'm afraid that's beyond the scope of my presentation. However, this corresponds to..." and try to redirect it to a topic that is related to your presentation.

You may have somebody in the audience who is just being plain rude. Try to remain calm and composed. If they do not agree with what you are saying, listen, acknowledge it and move on. You can provide further evidence of why you stand by your points, and if the person continues to aggravate, just remember this. It is your presentation and it's your responsibility to keep the presentation going.

Be assertive and use a technique called "broken record" by saying calmly and repeatedly: “I’m afraid I need to move on ... I do need to move on ... I would like to move on now.” Then continue the presentation or take another question.

So there you have it. A few tips to help you answer questions in a presentation. I wanted to keep this short, but I always end up writing long posts. 🙂

I hope you've found this helpful and we'll talk to you next week.

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