Dealing Elegantly With Questions During a Presentation

Roger is a highly experienced product manager in a multinational company in Europe. Last week, he was making a PowerPoint sales presentation to the management committee of a potential client who appeared to be very interested in his product. He felt that he had prepared the presentation to perfection and had high hopes of convincing the client to sign a contract. Soon after starting his presentation, one of the client’s team asked Roger a question which was answered in the following slide. However, not wanting to offend the questioner, Roger gave him a brief yet concise answer, but to his amazement, his boss jumped in to “clarify” his response and then another of the client’s team asked the boss a question about his response while another member of the client’s team started arguing with a companion and things went downhill from there.

Roger, for all his experience in presentations, was at a loss about what to do: shut up and leave them to it or try to elegantly take control of the situation. Finally, using verbal man-management techniques such as “echoic responses” and various non-verbal techniques he was able to get the group back “on-task” and focussed on his presentation. He did, however, tell the audience that he was sure that he had anticipated most of their questions and included the answers in his presentation and then ask everyone to write down their questions and promised to answer all of them at the end of the presentation. He informed the audience that this was to ensure that they finished in the allotted time as he knew that they were busy people. From that moment onwards, things went more smoothly. Roger decided that this was the last time that this would happen!

Points to remember;

- In this article, we are assuming that the presenter has really done their homework and knows in detail the Needs, Wants and Lacks of the audience and their organization.

- Not everyone is equal in a presentation. There are “Powers”, “Influencers” and “Hot bodies”. The “Power(s)” matter the most, then the “Influencers”. The “Hot Bodies” are often there just to fill the room and usually have NO say in the final decision.

- Some people have hidden agendas and will see a presentation as an opportunity to show how much they know or score points with bosses, etc. and the best way to do this is to ask questions either to the presenter or other audience members.

- If you accept, and answer, a question during the presentation, whether it is relevant or not, you are setting a subconscious precedent for more interruptions.

- If people have the opportunity to ask questions, many will focus on their own specific interests or worries that might not be shared by other members of the audience.

- Answering a question is often interpreted as a presenter’s way to initiate a dialogue with the audience (in linguistics this is known as “turn taking”: you ask me a question, I answer you and look at you and this can be interpreted as “I expect you to continue” so the original questioner does so).

- Answering questions and entering into dialogues often leads to a deviation from the topic & this, in turn, may often lead to boredom and disconnection for the rest of the audience.

- The time used to deal with questions consumes the time available for the presentation. Most Decision-makers are normally busy people and have heavy schedules so wasting their time is generally not appreciated!

- By postponing questions, you are showing that you are different from other presenters because you have the confidence & skills necessary to clearly present what the audience Needs, Wants and Lacks in a clear, structured and elegant manner and the ability to answer their questions when they have seen the entire presentation.

- Many presenters do not expect questions during their presentations and when they occur they are unsure about how to respond appropriately which frequently results in them having a “mental block” which impedes them from giving the correct answer or makes them waffle on without actually answering the question. A worse case scenario is when the presenter give an incorrect or inappropriate answer.

- Answering questions can often lead to a loss of control of the presentation by the presenter as indicated in the situation at the beginning of this article.


- Ensure that you know the Needs, Wants and Lacks of the client in THIS presentation.

- Identify the “Power(s)”, “Influencers” and “Hot bodies”.

- Anticipate possible questions from the “Powers” and “Influencers”.

- Incorporate the answer to these questions in the development of the presentation. Rhetorical questions are extremely useful as ways to get the audience to participate mentally without interrupting the presenter and the flow of the presentation. They also “personalize” the presentation by providing the presenter with the opportunity to show their knowledge of the problems / worries of the audience in a controlled manner.

At the very beginning of the Presentation:

- Inform the audience that you believe that you have anticipated possible questions and have incorporated the answers into the presentation so that the answers are given within a specific context.

- Ask the audience to make a note of their questions and that at the end of the presentation, you promise to answer all of them. We recommend using a phrase like: “We know that you are very busy people so I would appreciate it if you could keep all you questions until the end of the presentation. In this way, we won’t get sidetracked and we’ll finish on-time”.

With this structure we are using both the Primacy effect and the Recency effect to influence our audience. (Primacy: recognizing that they are “busy people”. Recency: “not side-tracked… finish on time”).

When you get asked a question, we suggest the following verbal responses in conjunction with the appropriate non-verbal communication using posture, gaze, orientation, proximity and gestures:

1. Congratulate the questioner:

By using one of the following types of “social markers” you are showing respect to both the person asking the question and the question itself.

Examples of possible social markers:

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5 No-Brainer Tips to Make Your Next Presentation Pop

Last summer… my wife Louise, who is a nurse, attended a daylong health conference that cost us $200.00 for her to attend. When she came home that night I asked her how the conference went and without hesitation she told me it was long, boring and was a waste of money. Louise went on to explain to me that for five hours she watched and listened to a woman, the featured presenter, lecture with a monotone voice and never once moved from behind the lectern. What a shame!

My wife’s experience… made me think that if I only had that proverbial nickel for every boring, run-of-the mill presentation I’ve slept through I’d be rich. Don’t get me wrong. I have seen some outstanding presentations over the years. However, just as I’m sure you have, I have also seen bad presentations that made me wish I had spent my time and in some cases my money more wisely.

Hear me now… if you are going to be presenting anything in the future, please know that you have a tremendous obligation to your audience to be interesting, engaging and excited about whatever it is you are presenting. If you are not interesting, the audience won’t be interested. If you are not engaging they will be disengaged. If you are not excited they will fall asleep.

Don’t ever… look at a presentation as something you have to “get through.” Presentations should be approached by you as an opportunity to inspire, motivate and sell your ideas. Anything else would be a waste of time for you and your audience. The key is to remember one thing when presenting:

Nobody cares about you… and this is why every presentation should be delivered in a way that appeals to 100 percent of your audience. Trust me when I say that the success of every meeting, lecture, talk or presentation of any kind will be determined by whether or not you appealed to the individuals who were listening to you. The best way to accomplish this is to KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE and to consider these five tips to make sure that you deliver your presentation in a way that will resonate with your listeners even after they have left the room.

Here are 5 tips… to keep in mind to make sure that your next presentation “pops!”

TIP 1 – Be Prepared

I once heard that there a three types of presentations that you can give. The first is the one you planned on giving. The second is the one you gave, and the third is the one you wish you had given as you are driving home. You can avoid that feeling of failing to give the presentation you wished you had given by being prepared. It goes without saying that a lack of preparation will result in you being tense, nervous and disorganized. Trust me when I say that when you are not prepared your listeners will notice and you will immediately lose credibility. Your presentation will feel like a cat-and-mouse game between you and your audience.

Spend time in advance getting to know who your audience will be and know your topic(s) backwards and forwards. Practice your presentation by running through it several times. You’ll be amazed at the ideas that will come to you during each practice run. Remember: preparation leads to success. The more prepared you are the more comfortable you will be while you are presenting.

TIP 2 – Be Excited

If you want your listeners to be excited you’d better be excited and eager to share your information. This doesn’t mean that you have to give your presentations doing cartwheels and smiling uncontrollably. Being excited means that you bring a passion to your topic through your body language and tone of voice. Being excited means that you use gestures and animation to bring your ideas to life. Avoid being monotonous by using different tones of voice and inflections throughout the presentation to help clarify your message. In other words, match your body language and tone of voice with the words you are using. Without doing this you risk sending mixed messages that could confuse your listeners. It would be like telling an audience that you are happy to be there as you say it with a flat voice and a frown on your face. So get excited with your body language and tone of voice, and make sure it matches up with the words you use.

TIP 3 – Be Creative

Right now, please rid your mind of the notion that presenting means that you have to stand behind a lectern while you read from notes or Power Point slides. Kill me now! There are a lot of things you can do to add some creativity to your next presentation. One idea is to start off with an ice-breaker relevant to the topic. This is a great way to get people moving and thinking. Also, during the presentation you could include some participation activities related to the topic. This would give you an opportunity to get your listeners involved by introducing the activity and soliciting feedback from your audience. You could incorporate technology by showing a relevant video clip, playing music or creating eye-popping Power Point visuals. Lately I have been conducting live polling in my seminars using Poll Everywhere. Poll Everywhere is fun, interactive and allows people to use their smart phones.

Creativity and something different is always a great way to make your presentation shine but please heed my warning. Don’t overdo it! Too many activities or over-the-top creativity may take away from your message if you’re not careful. People may leave your presentation saying it was interesting and that they had fun but they may have missed the point(s). Also, it’s crucial that any activities or creative elements you incorporate relate directly to your topic. So be creative, but be mindful that this creativity doesn’t overshadow or not relate to the ultimate message that you are delivering.

TIP 4 – Be Positive

Motivation doesn’t come from using words that are full of doom and gloom. It’s easy to complain and focus on negative things but rarely will it generate positive enthusiasm. More than likely, negative words will lead to intimidation and desperation. That is why when you present it’s imperative to use positive and encouraging words and phrases that will inspire people to take positive action.

I realize that not all news is good news and that there are times when delivering facts or making a certain point may require negative words and information. There is no problem in doing this as long as it’s being used as a motivator by using it to convey a positive and uplifting message in the end. The following is an example of how you can present negative information and using it to motivate by having an uplifting reason for bringing it up.

“We were way over budget last year and it resulted in heartbreaking layoffs.This year we have a tremendous opportunity to be creative in streamlining our expenses in order to retain our most important asset… our people. I’m confident we will succeed.”

Always look at presenting as an opportunity to move people to embrace change and new ideas. If you stay positive you and your message will serve as an inspiration that will help you to inspire people to embrace your message and take action.

TIP 5 – Be Genuine

One of the best ways to shine and connect with a listener is to be genuine by speaking from the heart and being you. If you are trying to be something you are not the audience will see it right away and your credibility and believability will be lost. I understand that at times nerves can get in the way of how you want to be perceived. If you feel like nerves will get the best of you try telling a personal story (which I recommend doing regardless) that relates to your topic. Personal stories are great evidence to back up your point and will help you to relax and be more relatable.

Over the years I have seen presenters who try to be someone they are not. It’s almost as if the presentation is being forced and as a result the speaker comes across looking fake and disingenuous. This usually happens when the presenter is doing things that appear to be unnatural or uncomfortable. If I’m attending a presentation of any kind I don’t want to see the presenter putting on an act. I want to see a presenter who I feel like I could bond with when the audience is gone and the shoes come off. One of the tips I always give to students in my presentation classes it to just have a conversation with me when they are presenting.

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