How to handle questions during a presentation

Posted by Belinda Huckle  |  On January 29, 2022  |  In Presentation Training, Tips & Advice

You’ve prepared your presentation, practised it a dozen times and you’re ready to go. But what’s the one thing that might throw you off course, undermine your confidence and your credibility? An awkward question. One that comes at an inopportune time, or one that’s difficult, or one with a complicated answer, or one you can’t answer! So it will come as no surprise that a question we get asked frequently centres around how to handle questions during a presentation!

Think about your work or everyday life, when someone asks you a question, how do you usually respond? Do you take a minute to think about your answer before launching into an explanation?

Do you interpret their question as a challenge of your authority/knowledge/intelligence and become defensive? Do you answer a question with another question? Did you notice that we’re asking a lot of questions right now…?

There are seemingly a thousand ways to answer a question and the kind of answer you give and how you deliver it can go a long way in helping to build positive relationships with other people, as well as facilitating constructive and helpful debates and conversations about certain issues and topics.

handling questions during a presentation

This is especially true in workplace environments, where you may be giving a presentation to your client, or delivering the quarterly business results to your team.

Questions may arise from the audience, which do have the potential to throw your presentation off course or set a bad tone in the room if not handled well. Some people can even inadvertently come across as rude, curt or dismissive when answering questions, simply because they feel attacked or they’re rushing to get back to their presentation before they lose their train of thought.

So in today’s blog post you’ll learn how to handle questions during a presentation. We’ve given you some specific advice to follow when answering questions and how to always remain courteous, on-track and respectful of the question-asker – so that in turn, you look professional and knowledgeable.

 

1. Tell the audience in advance when you will be taking questions

One of things that can sometimes throw you off course is being asked a question when you are mid-flow through a presentation or least expect it. It can interrupt your train of thought and momentarily put you off balance.

One way to avoid this is to agree in advance when you will be taking questions; anytime, at the end of each section, or at the end of the presentation. This way you won’t be surprised when they come up.

handling questions from the audience

 

2. Anticipate questions in advance

Whilst you are preparing your slides or deck, think about the questions you might be asked around the content and formulate your answers ahead of time.

Look at the content through the eyes of the audience and try to anticipate where their views might differ or where they might need clarification.

Is there any additional data or information that you could take along to the presentation that might help you to answer some of these questions?

You won’t be able to predict every question in advance, but by giving it some thought it will give you a foundation on which to base your answers and hopefully make it clearer to you how to handle questions during a presentation that you might be expecting!

 

3. Realise that questions are a good thing

It’s important to remember first and foremost that the fact that people are asking you a question in the first place means that they’re interested and engaged in what you have to say.

Either they want more information, they need clarification, they’re curious to know more, or they want to test your thinking, logic, and recommendations.

So, a question should always be taken as a good sign, and met with an extra boost of enthusiasm and confidence on your side.

 

4. Make eye contact with the questioner

Unfortunately, we’ve seen all too many presenters use the fact that someone has asked a question as an opportunity to adjust their microphone, check their slides, straighten their clothes, drink some water, wander around the room or stage… And we can’t say how much of a big no-no this is! It is definitely not how to handle questions during a presentation!

Becoming immediately and significantly distracted when someone is asking you a question can make you look as though you don’t really care about the question being asked, and can be quite disrespectful.

So be sure to maintain eye contact, nod regularly, and give the questioner your full attention.

Remember that it’s not just about your verbal response, your body language can be a powerful tool or a dead give away if you are feeling anxious or unconfident.

So be sure to show your interest in the question and questioner.

 

5. Always take a brief pause before launching into your answer

Pausing before handling questions during a presentation

No matter whether someone is asking for some data or facts from you, questioning your way of doing things, or simply asking for more information, the first thing to do is to pause briefly after they’re finished asking their question, even if you know what your answer will be straight away.

There are 3 main reasons for this:

  • It gives the person time to finish their question, and add any clarifying points.
  • It shows that you are taking the time to consider the question, which shows respect.
  • It gives you time to think of the best answer, and deliver it eloquently, rather than launching in, rushing through, and coming across as confused or uncertain.

 

6. Be sure that you understand the question they are asking or point that they’re making

clarify the question before answering

One of the best communication techniques in life and business is to clarify and even repeat or paraphrase a question or point someone is making to you, as it helps avoid misunderstandings.

This is no less true while giving presentations as well, so when needed be sure to ask the questioner to expand or fine tune their point.

Remember, if you don’t understand the question, chances are you’ll give the wrong answer.

Repeating or paraphrasing a question also has the added bonus of ensuring that everyone else in the room has heard the question as well. Plus it gives you some extra thinking time too!

Don’t forget, if there is someone in the room who can add additional weight to your answer or expand in another area which is relevant, don’t be afraid to invite them to contribute also.

 

7. Acknowledge how valuable the question they’re asking is

The old saying, “There are no silly questions” definitely rings true here, so you need to communicate this by making the questioner feel that their question was valid and constructive.

This needs to be done genuinely, and there are plenty of good ways to express an acknowledgement before giving your response:

  • “That’s a question I asked myself”
  • “That’s a question a lot of people have asked us recently”
  • “I’m not surprised you’re asking that given …”
  • “I think the point you’re making is a good one”
  • “That’s a question we have discussed at length within our team”
  • “Many thanks for your question. You’ve reminded me to touch on …”
  • “In most situations, you’d be right, and I would agree with you”
  • “That’s a really interesting point and not one we had considered”

It’s a good idea to practise these regularly, but always make sure the way you acknowledge the question is genuine or you’ll sound rehearsed and not authentic or credible as a presenter.

If a question is off-topic and not relevant to the presentation you might want to ask where the question is coming from, answer briefly and offer to give a more detailed response at a later date.

 

8. Always keep your cool

When it comes time to actually give your answer don’t get angry or defensive, no matter what the question is. This is not how to handle questions during a presentation in a professional, credible way!

We’ve all seen those video clips of celebs or politicians losing their temper after an interviewer asks them a less-than-favourable-question, and the only one who almost always comes off looking silly is the interviewee themselves.

So if you find yourself in a similar situation, even if the question was intended to be intentionally provocative, losing it or getting visibly emotional will make you come across as immature and unprofessional. If you feel yourself getting emotional, simply ask if you can get back to them at a later time.

woman handling questions during a presentation

 

9. Be honest if you don’t know the answer

We all have to admit to bluffing our way through an answer to a question we’re just not 100% sure of every now and then… But a presentation is not the time to do it.

Making up an answer or trying to dance around the question completely is a surefire way to come across like you don’t know what you’re talking about, which can really undermine your confidence for the rest of the presentation. Instead, here are some options for managing questions when you don’t know the (entire) answer.

  • Tell them what you do know. E.g. if someone asks “What is the current rate of inflation?” you may not know the exact answer so you could reply by saying “I’m not sure of the precise rate of inflation right now, though I can look that up for you if you like. What I can tell you is that it is rising faster now than it has done for many years.”
  • Tell them why you don’t know. E.g. if someone were to ask the above inflation question, you could reply by saying “The rate of inflation is extremely volatile at the moment. Let me look up the most recent data and get that figure to you straight after the presentation.”
  • Tell them someone else knows. Again, using the inflation question, you might reply “That’s a hot topic at the moment and our CFO has just published a report looking at the current rate of inflation and the drivers behind it. I’ll email that report to you later this week.”
  • Tell them you don’t know. It’s not ideal to admit that you don’t have the answer to hand but it’s better than making up the answer. In this scenario it’s imperative that you acknowledge the question so that you still come across as confident and in control rather than nervous and on the back foot. E.g you could say “That’s a very valid question you raise. I don’t have that data with me but I will send that information to straight after this presentation.”

Curly questions can really rock our confidence so stay calm, take your time and remember that no one expects you to know everything. You’re only human after all!

 

10. Answer in sections if the question is a long one

If the question is a particularly long one, ‘chunk’ up your answer into sections so your answer stays clear and concise.

For example, if someone asks you when a project is going to be completed, you might say:

“That’s actually a critical question as timings on this project are particularly tight (acknowledging worth). Based on our last status update, stage 1 will be completed by xxx, stage 2 by xxx and stage 3 by xxx.”

Or, if their question is multi-part, answer each part separately before moving onto the next.

You could say something like “And to address the second part of your question…”

 

11. Check-in with the questioner after you have given your response

check in with the questioner during the presentation

After you finish your answer it’s important to check-in with the questioner to make sure that you’ve answered the question to their satisfaction. You can do this by simply asking:

  • “Does that answer your question?”
  • “Can I provide you with any more detail?”

Or, you can also check in non-verbally, such as by making eye contact with them and smiling. If you get a smile back, you can assume you’ve answered the question to their satisfaction. If you get a puzzled look or a frown, we recommend you follow up with a verbal check-in.

So, by learning how to handle questions during a presentation, following all these important points, and being thoroughly prepared before your presentation, it will help to calm your nerves and leave you feeling ready to engage with your audience, stimulate constructive conversations, all while looking confident, professional and in control.

And if you’re going back into the meeting room after a long period of remote working you can brush up on your in-person presentation skills by reading this blog.

Tailored and personalised presentation skills training

If you’re specifically looking to learn how to handle questions during a presentation, or more generally to build the presentation skills of your team (or yourself) through personalised training or coaching that is tailored to your business, we can help.

For nearly 20 years we have been the Business Presentation Skills Experts, training & coaching thousands of people in an A-Z of global blue-chip organisations – check out what they say about our programs.

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Header image credit.

Belinda Huckle

Written By Belinda Huckle

Co-Founder & Managing Director

Read Bio

Belinda is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of SecondNature International. With a determination to drive a paradigm shift in the delivery of presentation skills training both In-Person and Online, she is a strong advocate of a more personal and sustainable presentation skills training methodology.

Belinda believes that people don’t have to change who they are to be the presenter they want to be. So she developed a coaching approach that harnesses people’s unique personality to build their own authentic presentation style and personal brand.

She has helped to transform the presentation skills of people around the world in an A-Z of organisations including Amazon, BBC, Brother, BT, CocaCola, DHL, EE, ESRI, IpsosMORI, Heineken, MARS Inc., Moody’s, Moonpig, Nationwide, Pfizer, Publicis Groupe, Roche, Savills, Triumph and Walmart – to name just a few.

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