Many presenters confess that they shudder at the thought of the audience asking them questions. This is a monumental shame for 2 reasons. a) Questions from the audience give us the opportunity to clarify important points, to dive deeper into relevant detail, and to further sell our argument. b) Questioning is a great form of audience involvement and engagement.
Here are 6 simple steps to help you answer questions with confidence and credibility (even ones you don’t know the answer to!):
Step 1. Before you rush headlong into your answer – pause. This will give you time to think about your reply and make you look as though you are giving the question due consideration. It is also a critical sign of respect to the questioner.
Step 2. Then make sure you understand the question. Vague or garbled questions usually receive vague and garbled answers. If in doubt ask for the question to be repeated or paraphrase it back to the questioner.
Step 3. If appropriate, agree with the questioner. For example:
Lisa (who’s in the audience) says to Tom (the presenter): ‘Tom the roll out plan has some tough deadlines. I’m worried we aren’t going to make those timings.’ Tom might reply ‘You’re right, the deadlines are tough (i.e. he’s agreeing with Lisa) but I think if we put on an extra shift we’ll be ok.’ (i.e. his answer).
Step 4. Wherever possible, acknowledge the merit of the question (sincerely!). Here are some examples:
‘That’s a question a lot of people have asked us recently.’
‘That’s an issue we’ve discussed at length internally.’
‘That’s an interesting perspective. I haven’t thought of that before.’
Step 5. If required, chunk your answer so your reply is easy to follow. This is useful when you want to present both sides an argument or if your answer is likely to be a long one.
Step 6. Finally, always check in, verbally or non verbally, to make sure you’ve answered the question to the questioner’s satisfaction.
Ok, so now you know how to answer a question with confidence and credibility – but what should you do if you don’t know the answer?
Don’t panic. And most importantly pause(!). Then, if possible acknowledge the merit of the question (see point 4. above) as this will help you appear in control and on the front foot. Then you have several options depending on the situation.
Let’s say you’re asked: ‘What’s the current rate of inflation?’. You might reply ‘That’s a really relevant question given the RBA is reviewing interest rates again next week…’ and then (here are your options)…
- What I do know (i.e. I’m still an expert):
…The inflation rate is between 2.5 and 3%. Let’s face it, 99% of people would be more than happy with that answer.
- I know I don’t know (i.e. I’m human)
…New data was released yesterday. Let me check the most recent figures and get back to you via x before y. How on the ball and cooperative does that sound! That would receive a gold star from me.
Or; …I’m so sorry, my mind has gone blank. If it doesn’t come back to me, I’ll get the answer to you via x before y. Well heck – who hasn’t been in that situation before? No drama.
- Someone I know knows (I’m helpful):
…I’m not the best person to answer that. Let me talk to John and get back to you via x before y. Or;…Does anybody else have the latest data with them? That’s ok, I’d rather hear the answer from an expert anyway, and if you can help achieve that – great.
- I know I should know (i.e. I’m honest)
…I should know that and I’m sorry I don’t. I’ll get the answer to you via x before y. Perhaps not ideal but if you’ve acknowledged the worth of the question, your reputation should remain intact.
You see, you can still come across as confident and credible – even when you get questions you don’t know the answer to.
So put yourself in the firing line and ask your audience to get involved. It increases their engagement and enjoyment, plus it will make your message more memorable. What’s not to like?!
p.s. remember it’s your personality that powers your presentation performance.