On the Question of Questions – how do we prepare effectively?
Quite often people have fears around the questions and answers session of a presentation. Totally understandable. We can prepare a presentation, structure it well, practice it well – but the questions are always an unknown entity.
Here are some tips to help you prepare for your next questions and answers session.
The FAQs are the frequently asked questions, or the expected questions.
In order to be able to answer these it’s a good idea to go back through your presentation as if you are a member of the audience. Look for areas where somebody not too familiar with your topic could have questions. On the other hand, consider those who know a lot about your question and extra detail they might ask for. If your presentation allows for it timewise, maybe add in the detail to avoid the question. Alternatively, if you do not have enough time for the detail, be prepared for the question arising.
Make out a list of all the questions, prepare answers using examples, facts, statistics etc. Keep these in a file so you can refer back to them. If it is a presentation you deliver regularly, add to this file every time a question comes up – particularly any ones you may struggle with.
The final part in the preparation is to practice answering the questions out loud. It is a good idea to record yourself on your phone, so you can hear, how effective your answers sound. If you think your answers sound long-winded – you are probably correct! Practice answering them again more concisely.
If you have prepared well for your FAQs you are more likely to have gained the respect of your audience, which builds your credibility for the ADQs.
What are the ADQs – I hear you ask! These are the Absolutely Dreaded Questions. The ones you really do not want to be asked.
For these questions, one solution is to use the “alternative angle” option. For example if you were asked why a particular product did not sell, you could answer about a product that did sell and explain why it sold well. If you are lucky, you may get away with this tactic. Listen to politicians – they are experts at this! Most interviewers will ask them the same question 3 times and then acknowledge to all and sundry that the interviewee is ‘obviously not going to answer my question’!
However, you are most likely not a politician and your CEO might not be too happy at having to ask the same question 3 times. So, if the “alternative angle” option is not a solution, you might say ‘while I don’t know about x what I can tell you about y is…..”. It is a bit like the alternative angle option but you are being a bit more open about not knowing the answer.
If you sort of know the answer but do not want to give mis-information. Say so! Tell them you want to be sure you give accurate information and suggest that you revert to them by email. To make this option more credible – include a timeline by which you will revert e.g. by close of business this Thursday.
Sometimes for legal, confidential or other reasons you cannot answer a question. Decide what you are going to say and, as mentioned previously, practice saying it out loud. However, after such an answer you do not want it to be wafting in a wave of silence. Once you have answered it, find something positive to say to flip the atmosphere in your favour.
The NAQ is the No Answer to that Question – either there is none or you just do not know it. We have all been in this situation. Why? Because we are humans, not robots! At the end of the day I don’t think there is a person who would say they know every single thing about their topic. I am 15 years training in presentation skills and I still get questions that I don’t know the answer to. However, I later find out the answers and that is how the learning continues.
If there is no answer to a question. Say so! For example, ‘I don’t think there is an answer to that question, I don’t believe that figure is available’. Again, practice saying it out loud.
So, what can we do when there is an answer, but we just do not know it? As mentioned previously, you could try the “Alternative Angle” option. Another option is the, “Other Person in the Room” option. Sometimes, there is someone else in the room who does know the answer, so just ask – is there anyone else in the room who knows the answer? You would be surprised the number of times that there actually is! This is a real win-win-win situation. The question gets answered, the person who answers feels great (rightly so) and you have not had to do anything other than ask for the help!
If you do not have a clue of the answer and have no other angle to go to – my suggestion is to be honest. Say, confidently, that you do not know the answer. Most people will admire your honesty, particularly if you have previously answered other questions well. If you are new to presenting or new to the topic tell them that you had prepared for anticipated questions and that was not one you had thought of. Thank them and say that you will think of it for the future.
So, as part of your preparation practice ask yourself a question you cannot answer. Then practice answering it, by saying “I do not know the answer” – in a confident tone. Then, if it happens in a presentation, you have already said the words and they tumble off your tongue more coherently than if it was your first time to say it.
At the end of the day, remember, you are a human not a robot and it is okay to not know the answer to everything!
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