During this election and debate season, we see some “artful dodgers” onstage when politicians choose to avoid responding to questions they’d rather not answer. Presenters in business face difficult questions too. How can you respectfully handle questions during a presentation?
Consider these 5 strategies:
1. Prepare, prepare, prepare: Before you even walk in the presentation room, consider who will be in your audience and the content you’ll cover. Just like anyone who’d get interviewed by Stephen Colbert, or who gets interviewed on CNN or a radio show, preparation is critical. Ahead of time, brainstorm a list of 5-10 questions you could likely get. As part of your prep, say out loud how you would respond. Creating the muscle memory experience of responding will help you ‘lean in’ to, rather than avoid, questions and bolster your credibility.
2. “I will address this in an upcoming slide.” If you are presenting to peers or your own team, you can answer a question with “I’ll address that in an upcoming slide.” This lets you maintain your content flow, while acknowledging you’ll address the issue soon. Then you can decide how much depth to go into, or how quickly you breeze through the answer. One caution: This strategy for decision makers would be a career-limiting move! With them, you must respond in the moment.
3. Honesty + follow through = credibility maintained: If you get a question for which you don’t have the answer, be assured: Presenters are humans! You don’t have to know it all. No one else does. In fact, by being honest and acknowledging you don’t have the answer, that authenticity can actually bolster respect for you in the room. Preserve credibility by immediately committing to gather the data and by when you will get back to them.
4. Planting allies: You might anticipate questions will arise about content for which you don’t have expertise. If it is a high stakes presentation, reach out to a colleague ahead of time who will also be at your talk who is expert in the material. You can contract him/her, “If during my talk next Wednesday, questions come up about topic X (their expertise), would you be willing to give a 1-2 minute response?” That way you don’t surprise your friend next Wednesday. You’ve covered your bases, setting yourself up to look good should you call on your colleague for a brief response.
5. See you in the parking lot: Have a flip chart or white board prepared for “Parking Lot” issues. If a question is outside the focus of your content but you might be able to address a peripheral issue later, off line, then capture the issue and let the person know you will address it later. Specify when that will be—during the final Q&A segment of your time, or immediately following the session? Maybe you commit to send them the information on email by the end of the business day or week. Just be sure to follow through.
So when it comes to questions, don't take the artful dodge approach. Better decisions come from questioning and dialogue. Ultimately, no matter your approach, we urge you to respond strategically.