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November 2002 - Handling Questions from the Audience

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November 2002

Handling Questions from the Audience

Many times speakers give a good presentation only to do a poor job in the question period that follows. What can you do to handle questions and give good responses? Here are ten things to consider.

  1. Prepare for their questions. Many experienced presenters practice their presentations in front of "murder boards"-a group of friends or people from their own organization who purposely ask difficult and demanding questions. This is good practice and preparation for the speaker.

  2. Project a positive, warm, polite, friendly image. Smile. Treat your questioners the way you'd want to be treated if you were in their place. Convey the attitude that you welcome their questions.

  3. Restate the question to show you understand. This is especially important if the question is complex, or if it can't be heard by other people in the audience. You might say something like, "So what you are asking is . . ." or "Let me see if I understand your question . . ."

  4. Ask for clarification if you don't understand the question. Blame yourself not the questioner for your not understanding. Never make the questioner look bad.

  5. Even if it is a stupid question, treat it as though it were a good one. A speaker told a questioner that his question was stupid and that he was ill informed. He may have been right. But the questioner was also the brother-in-law of the CEO where the speaker was employed. The fall-out was not pretty.

  6. Keep the entire audience involved. Don't look only at the asker when answering the question, look at others in the audience. Don't spend a long time answering a specific question that holds no interest for the rest of the audience.

  7. Take questions from different parts of the room. Try to follow a question from one side of the room with one from the other side. Don't just work one part of the audience.

  8. Make answers as short as possible, yet long enough to answer the question. Organize longer answers. For example, you might say, "Yes, I have three concerns about the new procedure. First . . ."

  9. Frame your answers so they add supporting material to points you made. See the question and answer period as an extension of your speech.

  10. If you don't know the answer, say so. Tell them where they can find it, or ask them to give you a phone number or e-mail address after the talk and promise to get back to them. Then do it soon.

John Kline
Montgomery, Alabama

November 2002 - Handling Questions from the Audience
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