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What Do YOU Think about… Answering Questions During a Presentation?


Do you remember what it was like taking on your first job after you completed your schooling?  For me, I started as an ensign in the Navy.  I remembered not knowing anything.  Sure, Navy ROTC taught me about leadership and how to wear my uniform.  But when it came to actually performing in my first job, I was clueless.  I didn’t even know the questions TO ask.  After a lot of fumbling around trying to figure the job out, things started to make more sense.  I felt like I’d arrived into my own when I finally got to the point where I could ask good questions.

When we start presenting to an audience, the audience has varying levels of knowledge on our topic.  If we connect to our audience, if they are absorbing what we’re saying, then they are going to have questions.  While presenting during a webinar this morning, the question came up, “Kelly, what’s your advice on answering an audience’s questions?”  I’m so glad you asked!

Questions Are a Good Sign

Like the younger version of myself, when your audience members start asking questions they’re “getting it.”  They are digging what you’re serving and they want some more.  The audience that asks questions is engaged.  They care enough and trust you enough to ask their questions.  Even when the questions go slightly off topic, it means that you’ve established your credibility and they want to know your opinion on more than just the subject of that presentation.  If you are getting questions from your audience, congratulations!  You’re making a connection!

Answer the Questions

As you get asked questions, listen carefully, and where you can, answer them. Simple enough, yes?  Your audience will appreciate the help and clarification.

But What If… I Don’t Know the Answer?

You can’t know everything.  Eventually someone will ask you a question you don’t know the answer to.  If you don’t know the answer, here are a couple of good ways to handle the situation…

I don’t know, but I’ll look into it and get back to you.

Do the research.  Look for the answers after the presentation.  Follow up with the audience.  This let’s them know you’re not going to lie to them and make something up.  And it let’s them know that you’re interested in them enough to follow up.  Keep the conversation going by providing that follow up.

I’m not sure.  What’s been your experience?

There is no one person standing at the front of the room who is going to be smarter than the collective wisdom of an entire audience.  Chances are there is someone in your audience who will know something about the topic and be able to answer the question.  You and your audience can benefit from the wisdom of those sitting in the room.  And sometimes, the answers of the other audience members triggers a new thought in your head and you can contribute to the conversation when they’re done.

When to “Let” Your Audience Ask Questions

I believe the best way to handle questions is as you go—as opposed to asking the audience to “Hold your questions to the very end.”  If you ask the audience to hold their questions, you’re training them not to engage.  Since questions are a sign that your audience is tuned in, answering questions as you go gives you the opportunity to build the connection and help your audience learn.  If you’re in a small venue, people can raise their hands or their voices and ask their questions.  In a setting with a big audience, the traditional “line up at the audience microphone” works, but I prefer using Twitter and taking Twitter breaks to address the questions. (See my series on interacting with your audience using Twitter.) That’s not to say that you shouldn’t leave time in the end to ask questions.  That’s cool too.  But if you’re really there to serve your audience, I think they (and you) are best served if you take questions throughout.

Questions at the End – But NOT the VERY End

While it’s great to have a questions and answer period at the end, reserve a few minutes of time at the very end of your presentation to wrap up your presentation properly.  If you don’t, it will be an audience member, not you, who determines the thought that gets left with your audience.  You want to be the one to give the audience the parting inspiration.

End with your call to action.  End with a story that encapsulates your message.  End with a strong statement that impacts your audience.  Don’t leave it up to chance.

Now I Have a Question for You!

(You knew it was coming didn’t you?)  What pieces of advice have I missed?  What have you learned about answering questions that the rest of us can learn from?  Please share in the comments below!