Read an Excerpt
Presentations For Dummies
By Malcolm Kushner
John Wiley & SonsISBN: 0-7645-5955-9
Chapter OneWhat Did You Say? Fielding Questions
In This Chapter
* Anticipating the questions you'll receive and other basics of a Q&A session
* Designing a perfect answer
* Going over some great techniques for handling questions
* Responding to delicate situations during a Q&A session
* Handling tough and hostile questions
* Getting the audience to ask questions
Many presenters let their guard down during the question-and-answer period. But doing so is a big mistake. Even if you gave a great presentation, a poor performance during the Q&A can totally change the audience's perceptions of you and your topic. That's the bad news. The good news is that if your presentation was mediocre, a strong performance during the Q&A can leave the audience with a very positive impression.
Reviewing the Basics of a Q&A Session
Want to give a sparkling performance during a question-and-answer session? You can stack the odds in your favor by following a few basic rules.
As any high school student can tell you, the secret to giving brilliant answers is knowing the questions in advance. In high school, this is called cheating. After you grow up, it's called anticipating the questions that you'll be asked.
How do you anticipate questions? Just use your common sense. Think about your presentation and your audience. Then generate a list of every possible question that the audience may ask. Don't pull any punches. Think of the toughest questions that may come up. Then ask your friends and colleagues to think of the toughest questions they can devise.
After you've compiled a comprehensive list of questions, prepare an answer for each one. Practice until you've got them down cold. Unfortunately, you may not anticipate every single question the audience is going to come up with, but you can think of some of them.
Answer questions at the end
Take questions after your presentation, rather than while you're giving it. If you take questions during your talk, it distracts both you and the audience, it makes your presentation harder to follow, and it ruins your rhythm. Tell the audience in the beginning that you plan to take questions at the end.
Don't let a few people dominate
Don't let a few people ask all the questions (unless they're the only ones with questions). Why? It frustrates everyone else who wants to ask you something.
You want to take questions from as many different audience members as time permits. And be fair. Don't favor one section of the room over another. Try to call on people in the order in which they raised their hands. (Yes, it's tough to do it, but try anyway.) Don't give in to bullies who don't wait their turn and instead shout out questions.
Establish the ground rules early. When you open the session up for questions, tell the audience that everyone is initially limited to a single question. Then, if time permits, you may take a second round of questions. If only the same few people keep raising their hands, ask if anyone else has questions.
Don't let the questioner give a speech
You just asked for questions. Despite the fact that you're standing at a podium, and you've just made a lengthy presentation, someone in the audience may want to give another speech.
You're the presenter. You opened up the session for questions - not speeches. When one of these people starts giving a speech, you must cut it off. How do you do it? Watch CNN star Larry King. Callers to his show are supposed to ask questions. If a caller launches into a speech, King immediately asks, "Will you state your question, please?" Want to be more diplomatic? Say, "Do you have a question?"
Listen to the question
If you want to be successful in a Q&A period, you must listen. I mean really listen. By really listening, I mean going below the surface of the words used by the questioner. Read between the lines. Watch the body language. Listen to the tone of voice. What is the questioner really asking? That's the question that you want to identify and answer.
For example, say you're leading a meeting of your department. After your presentation, you take questions. One person nervously asks about the company's strategy for the next quarter in light of its poor performance for the past few quarters. "Specifically, how does the company plan to become profitable?" After observing the questioner and knowing the context of the question, you respond, "I think what you're really asking is will the company be having any layoffs?" And, of course, that's exactly what is being asked.
Repeat the question
One of the biggest mistakes presenters make is not repeating the question. And it's an enormous mistake. There's nothing more frustrating than giving a brilliant answer to a question that wasn't asked. You get frustrated because it's a waste of a brilliant answer. Your audience gets frustrated because you didn't answer the question.
There are three major reasons why you should always repeat the question:
If you don't know the answer to a question, never guess. Never. It's a one-way ticket to zero credibility. Once in a while, you may get lucky, beat the odds, and bluff the audience. But most of the time, someone calls your bluff. Then you have a big problem. First, you're exposed as not knowing the answer you claim to know. More important, the audience members wonder if you bluffed about anything else. And they project their doubts backward to encompass your entire presentation.
If you don't know, admit it. Then take one, some, or all of the following actions:
Remember, nobody knows everything (except my grandmother).
End the Q&A strongly
The Q&A session is your last chance to influence audience opinion of your topic, your ideas, and you. So you want a strong ending. To achieve that, avoid the following:
How do you achieve a forceful finish? Wait till you get a question that you answer brilliantly. Then announce that time has run out. (Of course, you'll be happy to stick around and speak with anyone who still has a question.)
What if you don't get any questions that you can answer brilliantly? Don't worry. Just make the last question one that you ask yourself. "Thank you. We've run out of time. Well, actually, you're probably still wondering about [fill in your question]." Then give your brilliant answer. It works every time.
End the Q&A session on time. Some audience members come solely for your talk. They don't care about the Q&A. They just want to get back to work or go to the next seminar, but they're too polite to go before it's all over.
Coming Up with a Perfect Answer Every Time
Experts are people who know all the right answers - if they're asked the right questions. Unfortunately, your audience may not always ask the right questions. This section presents some ways to make sure your answers are expert, no matter what you're asked.
Knowing how to treat the questioner
Questioners may be rude, obnoxious, opinionated, egomaniacal, inane, obtuse, antagonistic, befuddled, illiterate, or incomprehensible. You still have to treat them nicely. Why? Because they're members of the audience, and the audience identifies with them - at least initially. Use these suggestions for dealing with someone who asks you a question:
Designing your answer
You never know exactly how to answer until you hear the question, but I do have some general guidelines to help you prepare:
Excerpted from Presentations For Dummies by Malcolm Kushner Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.