Presentation Skills: How to Answer Those Killer Questions

In our presentation skills training and public speaking workshops, one of the most common requests we receive is to help people to answer questions more professionally.

It’s a much bigger issue than many people think.

When we probe a little deeper to understand the issue with questions our delegates often ask 3 questions:

1. ‘How do I respond confidently to a question I simply don’t know the answer to without losing face?’

2. ‘What if I don’t understand the question?

3. ‘How do I deal with hostile questions?’

We believe that the very first thing that most of us need to do is to re-frame the way we think about being asked questions during or after a presentation. For a great number of people that presents a significant challenge.

It is often perceived as the moment of truth.

We’ve spent hours, days or even weeks crafting our presentation to ensure its content rich, memorable and, most importantly, helpful. We know our content inside and out, we’ve practiced the way we deliver it vocally and even mastered every physical gesture that will ensure our success.

We’ve left nothing to chance and even anticipated all of the questions we may be asked.

So what’s the problem?

It’s as simple as it is frightening; we have convinced ourselves that our entire reputation and success depends on exactly how we answer those difficult questions.

Unfortunately, there is a great deal of truth behind that limiting belief which is why it’s the cause of so much anxiety amongst presenters. The good news is that there is plenty that you can do to help yourself and your audience.

Before we take a close look at what will help you to answer those challenging questions with confidence, comfort and credibility, let’s take a look at the biggest piece of bad advice on the internet.

“That is a really good question and I am glad you asked it.”

Please don’t make that huge mistake that so many professional coaches encourage you to make. Think about it.

How often have you heard a presenter say that when you knew it was a dumb question?

Imagine how you would feel if you asked the next question and the presenter didn’t acknowledge it as a ‘really good question’. It just doesn’t work.

So what exactly should you do with those awkward questions?

‘How do I respond confidently to a question I simply don’t know the answer to without losing face?’

There is a really good reason why the old saying ‘honesty is the best policy’ has stood the test of time, because it’s true. The moment you try to bluff your way through a question you really don’t know the answer to you lose your credibility.

Try this instead.

Step into the question, in other words take a step forward towards your audience. If you are seated then lean forward into the table or desk.

Have you noticed how common it is for most people to be on the ‘back foot’ when they don’t know the answer to a question?

Your challenge is to be on the front foot and to step into or lean into the question. As you do so make a point of acknowledging the person who asked the question with eye contact but then bring the rest of the room into your response with eye contact as you confidently say, ‘I don’t know, but I’ll find out and let you know’.

Ask the audience

“I don’t know the answer to that but I wonder whether anyone else in the audience does.”

“Can anyone help answer that question?”

A thought

One of my personal favourites when answering a question I don’t have the answer to is to at least offer a thought or perspective if I have one. That’s not always possible of course but if you do here is a possibility:

‘I don’t know, but I’ll find out and let you know, but in the meantime I have a thought on the issue. Please keep in mind that it’s not the answer to your question as I’ve already stated I don’t know the answer, but here is a thought.

What’s your view on that?’

‘What if I don’t understand the question?

I’ve long held the belief that most people don’t really listen. I believe that we do something else – we wait to speak.

That is often the reason why we don’t understand the question, so the solution is relatively simple. We need to really listen. That means:

  • Listen – to the entire question
  • Breathe – don’t leap straight into a response
  • Check – ‘Let me just check that I understand you correctly, you are asking me if…’

‘To make sure that I’ve understood you correctly are you asking…’

‘How do I deal with hostile questions?’

Most audiences are on your side; they are friendly, open, want you to do well and are keen to learn from you. That said, every now and then you may get what we call a ‘sniper’ in the room. In the movies they are normally on the roof with a rifle but in the audience they sit at the back of the room desperately waiting for the Q&A.

You know they are a sniper because of their emotional charge as they wave their pen at you challenging, contradicting, or criticizing your perspective.

When confronted by the ‘sniper’ your job is to remain calm, depersonalize the attack and avoid being over defensive; easier said than done I know.

Your first priority is to diffuse the emotional charge and to take care of the rest of the audience whilst respecting the ‘sniper’.

Treat them the same as any other member of the audience and answer their question as honestly and as professionally as you can.

If your attempts at doing are repeatedly rejected and it appears as though the questioner is looking for more of an argument rather than an answer then you owe it to the rest of your audience to close it down.

You do have some options:

  • You can acknowledge their concern and suggest that the two of you meet separately after the presentation to discuss the matter in greater detail.
  • If the questioner persists you can calmly assert:

‘I’m afraid I need to move on now …’

It’s possible that you may need to repeat this two or three times.

  • A wonderfully simple but powerful technique you can use to respectfully quieten the ‘sniper’ and to regain control of your presentation is to:

Listen -That means listening very closely and carefully to the perspective of the questioner.

Agree – You have listened closely enough to find something you can sincerely agree with. That does not mean you agree with a point they make even if you don’t. It means you listen intently for something that does make sense to you that you can agree with. In my experience, when there is such a high emotional charge in a question it’s normally fuelled by passion and a need to be heard.

The sniper isn’t a bad person. They are simply someone who feels very strongly about what you are saying and may not share your perspective. Once you have listened closely enough to find something you can genuinely agree with, no matter how small, there is only one thing left to do.

Pause – You acknowledge that you agree with that element of their argument, that you understand their perspective or that the specific point they just made makes sense to you. Then you pause and you stay silent.

It’s more than a pause of course as you are signalling to the questioner that you have nothing else to say on the matter.

You don’t say a word and watch what happens next.

One of the many key distinctions between a mindful presenter and a mediocre presenter is the ability to handle challenging questions professionally and effectively.

That distinction is achieved through the conscious focus and effort to:

Listen very carefully to the question

Lose the ‘headstuff’; in other words not making it all about you

Pause and breathe

Repeat it if necessary and appropriate

Understand the motivation behind the question

Respect the questioner and the audience

Anticipate difficult questions whilst crafting the presentation

Stay calm, focused and on message

Close the questions down and move on

This article originally appeared in Mindful Presenter.

This article was written by Maurice DeCastro from Business2Community and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Boost Your Content’s Credibility with These Principles of Journalistic Objectivity

Fake news is a real problem — and not just for journalists.

Look no further than a new survey that says 75-percent of Americans find it difficult to determine what news is accurate and what is not. Worse yet, when Stanford researchers studied the ability of students to analyze the credibility of information online — the same kids we all consider “digital natives” — the researchers described the results as “bleak.” They were “shocked” by how many students failed to effectively evaluate the credibility of that information.

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So, what’s the solution? “The world needs the truth now more than ever,” says Hamish Nicklin of The Guardian. “In a world where the most important people on the planet are using fake news to undermine the values so many of us hold so dear,” she told a roomful of reporters at The Guardian’s 2017 Media Summit, “it has never been so important that we have a strong and vibrant media, and remember that facts and truth are sacred.”

Although she was speaking specifically to journalists, the same advice holds true for content marketers. As the audience grows more skeptical, content needs to grow more credible. Click bait, re-purposed press releases, and glorified commercials just won’t hold up to the tougher scrutiny, and they might even get you in trouble. In the past, the audience might just click away. But now that the audience is more skeptical, bad content runs the risk of getting lumped in with all of the other fake stuff — and actually harming your brand.

Do you really want to take that chance? Instead, focus on real facts and true stories. Be genuine. Be honest. Fight the fake news epidemic by using the same tactics that journalists use to bridge the credibility gap.

Use the principles of journalistic objectivity to build your credibility.

1. Act with Integrity

You’d be surprised how many newsroom discussions involve “Big J” journalism — the stuff we learned in journalism school. Most of those conversations involve integrity, or, in the words of the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics, the mandate to “seek the truth and report it.” Following that mandate, and showing it as transparently as possible, is the easiest way for journalists to separate themselves from fake news.

For marketers, I’d make the mandate even simpler: “Don’t BS your audience.” Content marketing is supposed to be all about answering the audience’s questions. Giving them what they’re looking for. When people click on a headline, they expect content that delivers. They expect relevant information that will help them. Try to manipulate them with ham-handed marketing messages and you’ll lose your credibility quickly.

2. Act Independently

For journalists, this means “follow the truth.” Don’t let advertisers (or anybody else) influence your coverage. That’s why there’s a separation of “church and state” in newsrooms — to keep the sales department and their advertisers away from the journalists. That independence breeds objectivity, impartiality, and credibility.

Marketers who force themselves to act independently will notice similar results. Nothing builds credibility like pure honesty. Avoid the temptation to act like a salesman. In fact, consider mentioning the competition as a way to showcase your objectivity. And don’t shy away from admitting they’re actually better on a few occasions. They’re going to find that out anyway, but when they learn it from you, your credibility will shine through.

3. Tell Real Stories

For journalists, this is easy. Real stories should seem more real than the fake ones. For content marketers, it takes a lot more discipline. It’s tempting to repurpose a press release or brochure, but is that what your audience is looking for?

If you put on your journalist’s hat and focus on real stories and information instead of your marketing story, you’ll build credibility. Create content that fills a need or answers a question and then ask yourself, “what is the next step the reader needs to take?” By answering the reader’s questions and making it easy for them to take the next step, you’ll begin to create a relationship of trust and open up the doors for further communication.

4. Reveal Your Sources

I’m not talking about Woodward and Bernstein — they were dealing with confidential sources. I’m talking about the way content marketers can build credibility by simply citing source information properly. For starters, why should I believe you’re using a fact from a study in proper context if you don’t link to it? Same thing with a quote. Let me see where you got it.

Besides building credibility with your transparency, you’ll also add an extra layer of objectivity. When you link to the source, you’re likely to vet it further. If it doesn’t feel like something you’d want your reader to see (whether it’s out of context, not the original source, or anything else that doesn’t feel right), you might reconsider using it. That a level of extra thoughtfulness that’s guaranteed to elevate both the quality and credibility of your content.

5. Use Video for Proof

Seeing is believing. It’s as simple as that. Showing a video instantly boosts your credibility because it allows the audience to see or hear for things with their own eyes and ears. Think of this the way you think when you look at one of those glossy hotel photos that’s just too good to believe. Now picture how you feel when it’s replaced by a short video. You see more of the room and you feel like you’re seeing it with your own eyes. It instantly starts to feel more credible.

Now think through the same thing with other examples, like a testimonial or case study where a recorded interview lets the audience vet the endorsement for ourselves. Same story for a demonstration or any other video. It simply feels more transparent and objective because there’s more information to process (both audio and video) and more access to it.

Make no mistake, fake news is a legitimate threat to all content creators. It muddies the waters of the entire internet. However, that threat also creates a giant opportunity for content marketers who embrace the principles of journalistic objectivity. With an increasingly knowledgeable and skeptical audience on the other end, producing “good” content will not only burnish your brand’s credibility but it will help distance your content (and your brand) from those who don’t.

This article originally appeared in The StoryTeller Media Blog.

This article was written by Gregg Litman from Business2Community and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.