You can prepare and rehearse your presentation as much as you like, but I know people still get a bit scared of that bit at the end when you’re expected to take questions from the floor.

It’s worth exploring why you feel like that. Often, it’s because we can’t rehearse our answers because we don’t know what the questions will be; sometimes, we feel a bit like we might get “found out”. Maybe you’re fearful of criticism, or you don’t think you’re good at thinking on your feet?

So, what can you do about it?

  • Stop telling yourself you “don’t have a clue what they’re going to ask”. You have a pretty good idea – if your presentation is about data protection, they’re not going to ask you a question about double glazing. If you know your subject well enough, the chances are you’ll be able to answer any questions, so have faith in your abilities.
  • Prepare to get out of a hole. If you really don’t know the answer, people will value your honesty in saying, “that’s a really interesting question and one I’d love to know the answer to – let me find out and I’ll email you an answer by the end of the day” (must be a realistic timeframe – you have to honour your promise!).
  • Don’t try and bluff it – people will know. Give yourself permission not to know everything; you’re only human, and this is an opportunity to show that authenticity to your audience. They need to know they can trust you to be honest.
  • Breathe a sigh of relief. The only thing worse than being bombarded with questions is…tumbleweed. People ask questions for two reasons: either to show off (which the audience will see straight through) or because you’ve interested people enough that they want to know more.
  • Take time to listen to the whole question – don’t be tempted to decide your response within the first couple of seconds and jump in with an answer because you’re relieved to have one! The questioner may change direction before they conclude, so make sure you’re engaged right to the end. Be present; listen,process, and pause before answering.
  • Seize the opportunity. If you’ve prepared your presentation properly, following my rules, you won’t have over-stuffed it and waffled on for hours. So, there’s likely to be lots of stuff on the cutting room floor – use the question time to squeeze in more of the stuff that didn’t make the final edit.
  • Before taking questions, revisit your breathing techniques to help control your nerves. Your brain can’t think clearly if you’re not breathing properly, so make sure you know how to breathe deeply and practise so it’s ready to go when you need it.
  • Be brave enough to shut down irrelevant questions. You can politely tell the questioner that you’d love to discuss it with them afterwards, but you’d like to use the short time we have available to make sure we stay focused on the objectives of this presentation.
  • Don’t shut off the rest of the audience. Imagine the question has been asked on everyone’s behalf, and treat your response as a mini-presentation that includes the whole room.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification: repeat the question back as you understand it, and confirm that you’ve interpreted it correctly.
  • Keep it short. A lot of us have a tendency to waffle when we’re thinking on our feet. Less is more, so give a focused response and save the detail for a follow up call.
  • Use structure to answer the tougher, more critical questions: 1) where we were 2) what we’re doing about it 3) what the outcome will be. You’re 1) acknowledging the criticism/problem 2) demonstrating what you’re doing about it 3) ending on a positive vision.
  • Don’t be bullied: an aggressive questioner can be like a dog with a bone. You have a responsibility to the whole audience, so don’t give too much time to one person: politely tell them you must move on but you’re happy to pick the discussion up at a later date.
  • Remember you need to back up your answers with credible examples. Make your point, and your reason for believing it, give an example, and restate your point.

And remember, if you hate ending your presentation with questions, then….don’t! If you have a questions section NEAR the end of your presentation, but not AT the end, you have the chance to go back into delivery mode and consolidate your message, reiterating your call to action and ending with a bang!

For help with preparing for presentations, interviews, and follow up questions, get in touch.