First aid kit for difficult questions

Berlin Buzzwords 2015 - Tag 1 by newthinking communications1

What to do when you don’t know the answer to a question from your audience?

  1. Crumble in fear
  2. Run away
  3. Make something up

Neither one of these will probably be a good idea.

In a previous post, we shared with you 5 steps to answering a question.

In this blog post we will provide you with the tools to handle difficult or unclear questions. You will also learn how to best prepare for any question.

What if you didn’t understand the question?

Don’t panic. Perhaps you didn’t understand the question because the person is speaking too softly or has a strong accent, or because the question is simply not very clear.

Never start answering a question if you didn’t fully understand it. Talking beside the point will come across very poorly and will harshly undermine your credibility.

Always make sure the question is clear. Don’t be afraid to ask the person to repeat his question slowly or with a louder voice, or to further illustrate what he is asking.

Is this still not doing the trick? Then ask help from someone in the audience who did understand the question. Or suggest catching up with the person after your presentation, to further discuss the issue.

What if you don’t know the answer?

You are not all-knowing, and you will sometimes simply not know the answer. What you can do is this:

  • Say that you will look into the matter. Ask the person to come look for you after your presentation for you to note down his contact details. Or if you have the contact information of each of the participants, why not forward the answer to everyone. Do this within 24 hours after your presentation.
  • Use your past experience. Perhaps you’re not able to answer that one specific question, but you can point to the fact that you have researched something similar in the past that could provide a partial answer.
  • Allow your audience to chime in. For instance, you could say: ‘What an interesting question. Perhaps someone in the audience has an answer to this. Who wants to have a go?’
  • Bounce the question back. ‘What an interesting question. (pause, thinking) Have you thought of a possible answer yourself?’ Often, the person asking the question will provide additional information that will give you a better reference point.

Preparing for question rounds

  • Check with the organizers whether there will be time for questions. Will there be a microphone, and if so how far will it reach into the auditorium?
  • Let your audience know during your presentation whether, and if so, when there will be time for a question round.
  • Know your audience. Find out who will be attending your presentation. Anticipate the type of questions you will be asked and prepare some fitting answers. Certain people in your audience will surely have their favorite theme that they will want to elaborate on.
  • Warm up your audience. Engage your audience from the very first minute of your presentation, for instance by regularly asking them questions. This will immediately build a connection and create an open atmosphere, which will definitely ease up your question round later.

And what if there are no questions?

This either means your audience did not grasp your message, or they just thought it was dreadfully boring. The argument ‘No questions must mean everything was clear’ is absolutely not true.

The number of questions raised will often be a very accurate indicator of your audience’s interest in your presentation.

Don’t forget: the audience is boss

And then there are always those persons asking very tough questions.

While you could begin swearing under your breath or sigh deeply, I would suggest not doing this in front of your audience. Each and every question is interesting and relevant, or at least that’s what you want your audience to believe. Never lose your smile.

More questions?