Presentations: Turning Question Time Into A Breeze

[message_box  color=”blue”]Do you find that question time is the graveyard of your well prepared presentation? It needn’t be…[/message_box]

Planning. We all understand that this is fundamental to success. It is particularly so in presentations, and the added fear factor ensures that most people do indeed plan and prepare their presentations prior to going live. As we’ve established in previous newsletters, they just forget the next step – to practice.

Here’s the next well-occupied graveyard of many a presentation – question time. We prepare the presentation. We practice it – at least twice…so far so good. Then we deliver it. Then, somewhere towards the end of our presentation, as if by magic these words pop out of our mouths:

“Are there any questions?” Silence. “Well, there being no questions then, allow me to….”

“Scuse me, ahm…could you tell me…” And then it starts, the slow death of your presentation.

This is what usually happens. The first question or two may be handled easily – until the arrival of the inevitable “curved ball.” Our noble warrior now finds himself on the back foot, defending his position while all the credibility he has so painstakingly built up dissipates in an avalanche of anxiety.

May I illustrate to you why this is so common an occurrence? Let’s take your four-year-old child. When an answer to her question does not satisfy her, it is followed with the next question – “Why?”. By the third “why?” you’re becoming frantic and ready to tear your hair and her tonsils out. Who’s in control? Why, the child, of course. Because it’s the child asking the questions. Conclusion? The one who’s asking the questions is in control. Same with question time in a presentation. Now what?

Experienced presenters avoid surrendering control of question time to the questioner by having a proven technique to deal withe questions in a confident, controlled manner

The objective is to avoid surrendering control of question time to the questioner. It may look something like this:

1. The presenter decides up front whether or not she will allow questions as they occur, or during a special time allocated during the second half of the presentation. I usually prefer the latter.

2. Depending on the size of the audience and the nature of the presentation, she may decide to use a structured format for answering questions. The most accepted format can be summarised by the acronym TRACT:

  • Thank the questioner
  • Repeat the question (the most important element of TRACT)
  • Answer the question
  • Confirm that you’ve actually answered the question
  • Thank them again

3. By doing her homework and targeting the presentation correctly, the presenter has anticipated typical audience concerns and has factored them into her presentation thus reducing the amount of time necessary for questions, and allowing more time for other issues that may be crucial in getting her message across.

4. She never gets flustered. She understands that she can’t be expected to know everything, and that if a particularly difficult question arises, it’s quite alright to say ” I don’t know the answer to that question, but will be happy to do some research and get back to you.” This adds credibility by indicating that the presenter is honest and does not pretend to be a “know it all.”

5. She stays in control and never lets question time to get out of hand. When time is up, she ends question time and wraps it all up with a crisp, punchy summary and conclusion – and if it’s a business presentation, she ends by asking for the business.

How does one establish the habit of following TRACT and being able to call it up in an instant? Practice repeatedly – using various different types of questions, in front of a mirror or friend.

The primary purpose of question time is not to allow the audience to tear you apart, it’s to enhance your chances of winning your audience over. Good presentations, after all, are the ones that achieve the intended end result. Question time should assist you in achieving that end – and it will, if you’re well prepared.

Good luck with your next presentation. If it’s more than luck you need, give me a call.

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