Enquiring Minds: How to Handle Audience Questions During a Presentation
August 6, 2018 by Jane Donaldson

You’ve done the research and carefully crafted your presentation to be effective, well-timed, and poignant – then a rogue question throws you off your game. 

There are countless ways to answer questions in any situation in life. When giving a speech in a professional setting, questions may come up that catch you off guard or set a bad tone for the audience. This means that it is even more important to know how to answer any questions that arise in a respectful, courteous, and on-subject manner.

Keep these helpful presentation tips in mind when an audience member enquires so that you can remain professional and knowledgeable:

  • Recognise that questions are a good thing. – The fact that an audience member is asking you a question means that they have been listening and are engaged in what you have to say. A question means that they either need some clarification (which other audience members surely need as well), want more information or want to test your thinking. Questions are something to welcome instead of dread!
  • Make eye contact and pause for a second before answering. – When an audience member asks a question, make sure that you give them your full attention. Some presenters will see this as a time to take a little break and adjust things, drink some water, or wander around the stage. However, becoming immediately distracted can make it look as if you do not care. Instead, maintain eye contact with the questioner, nod where appropriate, and really listen to the question. Then, pause for a few seconds after they are done asking as this will give them time to add any follow-up points while you can prepare your response so that it does not come across as uncertain.
  • Keep your cool and acknowledge the value of the question. – No matter what the question is, it is important that you do not get defensive and angry while giving your response. You do not want to be the star of the next viral YouTube video of a presenter going wild on an audience member. Even if the question was intentionally provocative or less-than-favorable, keep yourself from getting emotional or ask if you can get back to them at a later time. If the question is a real one, make sure that you make the questioner feel validated with a constructive acknowledgement. 
  • Be honest if you do not know. – There are times where bluffing an answer is acceptable and useful, but a presentation is not one of those cases. Making up an answer or trying to gloss over the question will make your audience think that you don’t know what you are talking about. If you don’t know the answer, tell the questioner what you do know and offer to get back to them with more information.

If you would like to further prepare yourself for answering questions while presenting, our Executive Presentation Skills seminars can help: Click here to find an upcoming session near you today.