Anticipating Questions after a Presentation: You Any Good?

Usually a presentation is followed by question time. This can often make or break a presentation. Sometimes people who aren’t confident at prepared presentations will redeem themselves by answering questions really well. On the other hand, people who have just delivered a polished, perfect presentation may have their lack of real knowledge of the topic revealed when they can’t answer probing questions off the cuff.

In order to prepare yourself to deal competently with questions from the floor, you need to plan for this.  It is impossible to anticipate every question your audience is going to ask, but you can give this some thought beforehand.  You might like to consider the following

  • Identifying the weakest points of your presentation – parts where you make questionable conclusions or present dubious evidence or research. These areas will probably be targeted in question time.
  • Identifying the controversial parts of your presentation – parts that members of the audience are likely to disagree with. Audience members will probably use question time to argue these issues with you.
  • Identifying confronting or upsetting parts – once again, audience members may ask probing questions relating to these sections.
  • Identifying points where you were not able to go into as much detail as you or your audience would probably have liked. Make sure you have the extra information on hand.

Sometimes someone will ask you a really tough question, perhaps hoping to trip you up.  If you are well prepared, it would be most impressive to be able to give them a detailed answer, and even more impressive should you be able to produce a diagram to illustrate your point. This is the time when your true professionalism will be revealed: that you have researched your topic well, that you have a thorough knowledge of the field, that you have anticipated what you may be asked and that you are sufficiently well prepared to be able to speak off the cuff.  It helps if you run through your presentation beforehand with a colleague who is able to fire at you the sort of questions to expect after your presentation.

It is important that your audience be told at the outset how you plan to deal with questions. Many speakers take questions at the end of their presentation. This allows them to complete a talk within a specified time and be sure the audience has the whole picture. If you choose this approach, maintain control by making the transition to the question-and-answer session clear and making sure that the whole audience is involved by repeating the question and directing the answer to the audience at large.  However, you may be comfortable with handling interruptions while you are speaking instead of making the audience wait until you have finished. Use this approach with caution since it may cause you to lose control of your presentation.

Many times, the success of your entire presentation will be judged on how well you handle the question-and answer-session. You need to bear the following in mind

  • Before your presentation, anticipate possible questions and arguments that might arise. Decide how you will respond.
  • Keep your answers brief and to the point.
  • Keep your tone positive and helpful and your body language open and welcoming.
  • Don’t deny or gloss over any difficult or controversial questions. Don’t sound defensive or apologetic.
  • If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so and refer the person to another source, offer to find the answer, or ask whether someone in the audience can answer the question.
  • Always repeat the question. It shows the audience that you understand the question, it gives you a moment to think of an answer, and it ensures that everyone in the audience has heard the question.
  • If you find that answering questions is beginning to disrupt the flow of your presentation, record them on a white board or flip chart and deal with them at the end of the meeting.
  • Inform the audience that you are wrapping up the question-and-answer session by saying, “I’ll take two more questions, and then we’ll wrap up our time together.”
  • Try to take questions equally from people seated in all sections of the audience.  One person should not be permitted to dominate the question-and-answer session.

The success of your presentation will be judged not by the knowledge you send but by what the listener receives.

Lilly Walters
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