Dealing Elegantly With Questions During a Presentation

  • February 23, 2019

Roger is a highly experienced product manager in a multinational company in Europe. Last week, he was making a PowerPoint sales presentation to the management committee of a potential client who appeared to be very interested in his product. He felt that he had prepared the presentation to perfection and had high hopes of convincing the client to sign a contract. Soon after starting his presentation, one of the client’s team asked Roger a question which was answered in the following slide. However, not wanting to offend the questioner, Roger gave him a brief yet concise answer, but to his amazement, his boss jumped in to “clarify” his response and then another of the client’s team asked the boss a question about his response while another member of the client’s team started arguing with a companion and things went downhill from there.

Roger, for all his experience in presentations, was at a loss about what to do: shut up and leave them to it or try to elegantly take control of the situation. Finally, using verbal man-management techniques such as “echoic responses” and various non-verbal techniques he was able to get the group back “on-task” and focussed on his presentation. He did, however, tell the audience that he was sure that he had anticipated most of their questions and included the answers in his presentation and then ask everyone to write down their questions and promised to answer all of them at the end of the presentation. He informed the audience that this was to ensure that they finished in the allotted time as he knew that they were busy people. From that moment onwards, things went more smoothly. Roger decided that this was the last time that this would happen!

Points to remember;

  • In this article, we are assuming that the presenter has really done their homework and knows in detail the Needs, Wants and Lacks of the audience and their organization.
  • Not everyone is equal in a presentation. There are “Powers”, “Influencers” and “Hot bodies”. The “Power(s)” matter the most, then the “Influencers”. The “Hot Bodies” are often there just to fill the room and usually have NO say in the final decision.
  • Some people have hidden agendas and will see a presentation as an opportunity to show how much they know or score points with bosses, etc. and the best way to do this is to ask questions either to the presenter or other audience members.
  • If you accept, and answer, a question during the presentation, whether it is relevant or not, you are setting a subconscious precedent for more interruptions.
  • If people have the opportunity to ask questions, many will focus on their own specific interests or worries that might not be shared by other members of the audience.
  • Answering a question is often interpreted as a presenter’s way to initiate a dialogue with the audience (in linguistics this is known as “turn taking”: you ask me a question, I answer you and look at you and this can be interpreted as “I expect you to continue” so the original questioner does so).
  • Answering questions and entering into dialogues often leads to a deviation from the topic & this, in turn, may often lead to boredom and disconnection for the rest of the audience.
  • The time used to deal with questions consumes the time available for the presentation. Most Decision-makers are normally busy people and have heavy schedules so wasting their time is generally not appreciated!


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