Jennifer Lombardo received both her undergraduate degree and MBA in marketing from Rowan University. She spent ten years in consumer marketing for companies such as Nielsen Marketing Research, The Dial Corporation and Mattel Toys. She is currently an adjunct professor of marketing at Rowan University and a social media marketing consultant.
Handling Audience Questions
There are two important parts to delivering a presentation effectively in the workplace. The first part is the actual presentation, and the second part consists of the answer and question forum. This lesson will cover tips for handling audience questions during a presentation. I will share with you some real-life examples of how presenters handled audience questions.
Establish Protocol Early
The most important tip for handling audience questions during a presentation is to establish protocol early and explain how you will take any questions at the end of the presentation. Protocol is the procedure or rules that the presenter will ask the audience to follow during a presentation. This is important for the audience to understand from the beginning so they will not interrupt you during your speech or feel that their questions are being ignored. I once witnessed a speaker who did not establish how questions would be answered, and she spent the entire time telling audience members to please put their hands down and save their questions for later.
Sometimes audience members can be shy about asking questions. One tip is to initiate questions by asking aloud, 'Who has the first question?' or 'Who is going to lead off our discussion?' If you are caught in a situation where all you receive is blank stares and no questions from the audience, it is time to start the query yourself. One option is to tell the audience, 'One question I often get is …..' This way, you can open the door and hopefully stir up some participation.
One example I have witnessed is a presenter who started the question/answer forum by telling the audience that he had a free product t-shirt for anyone who asks a question. He was bombarded with questions and created a fun, entertaining way to engage his audience.
A good presenter will take an audience question and repeat it back to the individual. This helps in two ways. For one, it allows you to repeat the question so the rest of the crowd can hear. Secondly, it allows you to make sure you heard the question correctly. For example, during one presentation, an audience member asked, 'Why does the product fail to work sometimes?' The presenter did not repeat the question back to the audience member and thought the question was 'Why is the product a failure?' As you can imagine, it caused the presenter to react in a defensive manner, when all the audience member wanted was some help diagnosing an issue.
Keep Responses Short
Presenters need to remember to keep the answers short when responding to audience questions. It is appropriate to even answer just yes or no. The presenter wants to provide answers to as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time. The last presentation I attended for work had such a long question and answer session that audience members actually started to duck out of the venue due to the length.
Some questions might be difficult to answer or be controversial. It is best to avoid any arguments with audience members. Try and explain in simple terms, and if the audience member tries to pursue a fight publicly, it is best to let the individual know that you would be happy to speak to him/her privately after the session. For example, if someone asks why you are increasing prices on a product that already is so successful, you might want to sympathize with the audience member first. You can do this by saying that you understand how frustrating price increases are for consumers but costs increase for companies as well.
Save Conclusion Until End
An excellent suggestion to end the entire presentation is to save the conclusion until the end by asking the audience if they have any questions before you finish your presentation. So in this instance, the presenter would complete the presentation, except for the final conclusion, and answer questions. Then once the questions are answered, the presenter would be free to finish the presentation with a strong final conclusion. This allows you to control the presentation and also end your speech with your final thoughts, and is a great way of siphoning out any objections and still giving the final last word.
The answer and question forum is just as important as the presentation to an audience. There are some specific tips for handling audience questions during a presentation.
- Establish protocol early by setting the guidelines for when questions will be answered during the presentation.
- Initiate questions by asking who in the audience would like to go first or by giving example questions.
- Repeat questions to ensure that the audience heard what was asked and also that you fully understand the question.
- Keep responses short to create a proficient question forum that does not bore the audience.
- Avoid arguments as to not turn the forum into a huge public fight. Be courteous and offer to meet members privately to further discuss lingering issues.
- Save the conclusion for after the question and answer forum so that you have the last word and are able to better control the ending of the presentation.
After this lesson, you'll be able to:
- Identify two important parts of an effective professional presentation
- Describe tips to handling audience questions after delivering your presentation
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