Answering audience questions is an imperative part of your role as a presenter.
Yes, it’s tempting to dodge the really tough ones, but we really don’t advise it; doing so can make you appear untrustworthy, and can seriously hurt the credibility of your content.
Let’s look at how you can handle those dreaded and difficult presentation questions that you probably don’t want to hear, but will have to deal with sooner or later.
How to Answer Difficult Presentation Questions
When an audience member asks a difficult question, you can often feel put on the spot and it’s all too easy to counter with a defensive answer. But by understanding exactly what the audience member is asking, and what their intention is, you can formulate a professional and diplomatic response that satisfies the asker and the rest of your audience.
1.) Prepare Beforehand
Whether you like it or not, you probably know ahead of time what difficult presentation questions are likely to be asked at the end, so take control and prepare some adaptable answers as part of your content development process.
Having some answers to common questions will enhance your understanding of your own content and will benefit your overall confidence during the presentation.
2.) Set the Agenda for Questions
If you’re worried about tangential questions that fall outside of your specialism, then why not be proactive in identifying the themes that you would like audience questions to focus on?
For example, if your presentation has three central components, you can keep your audience questions on-theme by asking something like: ‘I’d now like to take any questions you may have on [area A], [area B] or [area C].’
3.) Listen and Understand
Take the time to listen to your audience’s questions in full, and don’t rush to answer. Listening carefully will ensure you fully absorb the question and ascertain the asker’s intention, enabling you to give the most appropriate answer to what is being asked (and not what you wish was being asked).
You can also ask the audience member to clarify by repeating their question back to them: ‘Just so that I can give you the right answer, what you’re asking is…?’. This gives you additional time to come up with your answer, and shows a care and willingness to engage your audience that will benefit your credibility.
4.) What If You Don’t Know the Answer?
If you really don’t know the answer to a difficult presentation question, then it’s okay to say so. But be positive and sincere in your response, and thank the audience member for asking an interesting question.
You can tell the asker that you don’t know the answer off-hand, but that you will make the effort to find out for them. Make a quick note of the question and invite the asker to see you following your presentation – you can then take their contact details and follow up. You can even post your findings out to your social media channels to encourage a digital conversation around your topic after the fact.
Maybe you’re asked a question that falls outside your area of expertise? If so, why not use this as a chance to involve your audience by calling on them for help with something like: ‘I’m afraid that isn’t quite my area of expertise, but I’m sure that someone else in the audience might be able to help with answering that?’.
Your audience don’t expect you to know everything, and admitting this and drawing on their knowledge base for help will paint you in as a collaborator.
Never Give an Uninformed Response
No matter what, you should avoid doling out untruths in response to difficult presentation questions questions at all costs. It’s far better to admit that there are certain things you don’t know than to give an uninformed response – your audience will see right through this and it could harm your credibility.
Trust takes a long time to build, but it can be destroyed in seconds. Don’t risk it!