Most presentations end with time for questions from the audience. This is something that can strike fear into the heart of the presenter, for at least two reasons. The first is the prospect of being met with a stony silence when you ask, ‘Does anyone have any questions?’ The second is being put on the spot and faced with tricky or controversial questions that you don’t know how to handle.
In this post I will outline some ways to encourage your audience to ask questions, as well as some tips on how to deal with questions effectively.
How to encourage your audience to ask questions
Inviting questions at the very end of your presentation can often lead to the dreaded stony silence, which can feel uncomfortable for everyone. If the success of your presentation depends on getting interaction and ‘buy in’ from your audience, then here are some strategies to take you beyond the awkward silence.
- Warn your audience when you are coming towards the end of your presentation and tell them you’ll be inviting them to ask questions. First, recap your main points and then invite questions. This gives your audience some thinking time and the chance to refocus their attention.
- Pose a question yourself and provide the answer. You can introduce your question by saying, ‘This is something people often ask me………….’ By choosing your question carefully, you can highlight a particular aspect of your presentation or use it subtly as a call to action.
- If your audience is large, people are likely to feel inhibited about speaking out. Consider having a ‘plant’ in the audience – a friend or colleague who asks the first question. Often this is all it takes to set the ball rolling and further questions will follow.
- Make sure you come across as approachable, friendly and interested in your audience. No-one wants to risk asking a question and appearing foolish in front of the ‘world leading expert’!
Tips for answering audience questions
Remember to make it clear at the start of your presentation whether you want or expect questions, and when you would prefer to take them i.e. at the end or as you go along. If you are an inexperienced presenter or if your timescale is very short, then it’s generally best to take questions at the end.
Most audience questions are fairly predictable, so you should have thought of them when preparing your presentation and figured out some good answers, especially to the tricky ones. Of course you won’t be able to predict every question, but you can develop and use a range of techniques for handling them effectively.
- Welcome every question and acknowledge that you have received it.
- If you are faced with a tricky question, don’t change your manner or respond defensively in words or body language.
- Repeat the question if the room is large, or if the questioner has a quiet voice.
- If the question is unclear, ask the questioner what they mean or rephrase it tactfully and check if you have understood correctly.
- Keep your answer brief and clear.
- Answer the question mainly to the questioner. If the answer is fairly long, make eye contact briefly with the rest of the audience so that they feel included.
- Check that the questioner is satisfied with your answer.
- Admit it if you don’t know the answer and don’t waffle. If appropriate, say that you will find out and get back to them.
- Refer the question to someone else in the audience – but only if they are expecting you to do so.
- In some circumstances you may open up the question to the whole audience.
- Don’t let one person dominate question time. Break eye contact with that individual and invite questions from other parts of the audience.
- Don’t engage in a long dialogue with one person. You risk the remainder of your audience becoming bored or restless. Say to the individual that you’ll be happy to discuss further after the presentation – if that’s the case!
- Never get drawn into an argument. You could undo all the good work you put into your presentation.
- When time is running out, warn the audience that you will take only two more questions.
Question time can be the most productive element of your presentation. Follow the tips outlined above and you will find yourself not only handling questions effectively but even enjoying the process too!
Click here to read one of my previous posts on How to use visual aids.