You’re not quite ready to present, however. You’ll also be asked to respond to audience questions after you conclude your formal remarks. This component deserves no less preparation than the presentation itself. You need to and will want to prepare. Even the best presenters undermine their effectiveness by failing to plan for questions. Hence, I urge you to spend time in advance thought and preparation in this arena.
To this end, I encourage you to incorporate these five guidelines. They’ll help you to make the most of questions you’ll encounter.
- Identify what you consider as logical or obvious questions you’re likely to be asked based on your topic. These questions seek clarification on any or all of your main points; raise possible objections to your arguments; inquire about details regarding implementation; and/or probe next steps based on your argument.
- Craft and practice your responses to the questions you’ve identified above. Don’t simply write out and read your responses silently, however. Instead, speak them out loud—just like you’ve done when you’ve practiced your formal presentation. Reading and speaking aloud are two fundamentally different experiences. You might believe you’re prepared if you’ve written and memorized your responses, but it’s not the same thing.
- Aim for succinct responses that begin with your response to the question. If possible, add a sentence or two that reinforces your main message. That’s it. There’s no need to add more detail. You want to ensure you can address all potential questions. Responding at length to anyone or two can undermine this intent. Besides, your goal is not to show how much you know but to speak to the audience’s curiosity about your topic. That means answering as many questions as time allows.
- Identify difficult or out of the ordinary questions you might encounter. These might invite you to comment on a hypothetical situation or rumor related to your topic. These questions may also seek your opinion on subjects unrelated to the purpose of your talk. In short, prepare for the unexpected, undesirable, and perhaps even inappropriate question.
- Capitalize on these difficult questions to reinforce the main points in your presentation. Consider them as opportunities, not nuisances. You want to respond to even the most unusual question, yet move quickly on from it to make your point. Consider using statements to redirect attention towards the focus of your presentation. For example,
- When the question is unclear, unusual, or not relevant to the subject of your talk, use “What I think you’re asking is. . .”
- When the question asks you to speculate or guess, use “I would prefer not to discuss that, but what I can tell you is . . .”
- When the question points to an issue or argument with which you disagree, use “That’s not the issue. The real issue is . . .”