In our training workshops we are often asked to help presenters to answer questions with confidence.
Most presentations involve some form of question and answer session. For many professionals, it’s major source of anxiety.
Many presenters dread the question and answer session
Having invested so much time and energy researching and crafting their presentation this is where they really feel vulnerable.
– Will they ask me a question I just don’t know the answer to?
– What if I can’t answer, will I look stupid and lose credibility?
– They may not like or agree with my answer?
– What if the question derails my presentation?
These 6 tips will go long way to helping you to answer questions with confidence and ease.
1. Step into the question
When many presenters are asked a question, the first thing they do is to take a step back.
When it’s a question they don’t know the answer to, you will see it.
There’s even a term for it: ‘Being on the back foot’
In our presentation training workshops we encourage people to do the opposite.
We ask them to step into or lean into the question. Especially if it’s one that makes you uncomfortable or you don’t know the answer to.
The forward movement towards your audience makes a statement that you’re in control. It conveys confidence even if you don’t feel it in that moment.
Try it out and see for yourself.
2. Reframe it
Our primitive fight or flight system kicks in with a vengeance when we are unable to answer a question or feel challenged.
It’s entirely normal.
Consider this for a moment
If your audience asks questions, it suggests you have engaged them and stimulated thought.
High impact presenting isn’t about telling people what you think, imposing ideas and then running for the hills.
It’s about inspiring thought, sometimes challenging beliefs and at the very least creating a conversation.
The nervous energy you feel in the moment is entirely natural
It’s your body telling you that you are alive, that you care and that you want to do well.
Acknowledge the nerves and channel the energy to your advantage.
The best way to do that is to breathe deeply as you listen to and consider the question.
Your audience wants you to do well; no one is there to catch you out or watch you squirm. They also know that you are human just like them and simply can’t know the answer to everything.
3. Look at them
When we don’t know the answer to a question our eyes are often the first things to hit the floor.
A good way to answer questions with confidence is by making eye contact with your audience.
Many presenters who are able to do so, tend to hold eye contact with the questioner only.
They often forget about the rest of the audience
You will exude more confidence and retain rapport if you involve the rest of the audience with your response through eye contact also.
4. Answer it anyway
If you don’t know the answer to a question don’t make one up.
Explain that you don’t have the explicit answer for them in that moment but that you will make it your business to get it for them.
You may still offer a thought or view on the question if you have one. The caveat is to make it very clear that your comments don’t represent the answer, they are simply thoughts.
You’ve already promised to find out, it’s simply a perspective
Your audience will welcome and respect the fact that you’ve been honest but are also prepared to think about it on the spot.
5. Learn from them
Being asked questions we don’t know the answer to creates a learning opportunity.
Life and business is a perpetual ‘work in progress’. I can’t even begin to imagine a day when any of us will stop learning.
That’s another reframe of course
Instead of being terrified of losing credibility, try to see the benefit in that you get to find out the answer to something you don’t know.
Accept the opportunity to learn graciously.
6. Take the emotional charge out
Every now and then you may face what feels like a hostile question.
The person asking may be frustrated, concerned or just simply doesn’t understand your perspective .
Perhaps they just don’t agree with you
You may feel that the questioner wants an argument. You may even think that they won’t rest until you concede to their way of thinking.
If you feel that’s the case and that you’re getting nowhere fast, try this:
Listen very carefully to the question and make sure you completely understand it.
Try to find something the person is saying that you can genuinely agree with.
That doesn’t mean agreeing with something you don’t.
Once you’ve found something in their words, no matter how small, that makes some kind of sense to you acknowledge it.
– Shut up
You’ve listened intently.
You’ve acknowledged or agreed (genuinely) with some small element that they said .
Now you need to pause and say nothing
Many presenters are uncomfortable with the idea and feel compelled to continue speaking.
Have the courage to hold your ground for as long as it takes. Watch the emotional charge begin to dissipate.
Rather than quaking at the thought of being asked a question you don’t know, try these 6 tips to see what works for you.
“The important thing is not to stop questioning.” – Albert Einstein
If you need help answering questions with confidence:
– Book yourself onto a powerful public speaking course.
– Invest in some really good one to one public speaking coaching.
– Get yourself some excellent presentation training
Image: Courtesy of flickr.com