When building out a presentation, it’s important to decide whether or not you will be fielding questions, and when. This varies greatly depending on size of audience, nature of presentation, and presenter preference. Do you actually want your audience to ask questions? What kinds of questions does your presentation need? Strongly consider this before you get ready to speak. If this is a presentation that is given often, then it can be tweaked. You can determine when to make room for questions depending on the nature of questions you typically get over time. If this is a one-time pitch, think long and hard about leveraging questions for maximum participation. Questions can either enhance or hinder your presentation, and it is up to you to make sure it is the former. Here are some things to consider when making that choice.
Many presenters choose to get through their deck lecture-style and then field questions at the end. The smartest way to do this is to prepare the audience for questions at the end and build up to them. Statements like “it is almost time for questions” and “I know I promised I would answer questions, we are almost there” will encourage the audience to start thinking of them and truly engage once the time comes. Planting a question with an audience member is never a bad idea if you are in need of someone to break the ice. Leave an appropriate amount of time at the end if you actually want your audience to ask questions. This will show them that you respect their time while encouraging participation. However, if ultimately you don’t think opening up the floor to questions at the end will advance your agenda, there’s no need to risk it.
Posing a provocative inquiry while you are still warming up the audience can be a smart and cunning move. You can base your speech off of the questions you are given and continually refer back to them throughout your presentation. This might look something like, “What are the biggest challenges you face when…?” Giving the audience the appropriate amount of time to think of an answer and get up the courage to pose it will give you maximum participation. This also opens up your audience to questions along the way, and they may even greet you with them afterward. Make sure your subject matter is appropriate if you choose this style of question-driven narrative. Alternately, consider switching to a rhetorical question if you don’t feel comfortable with how or if the audience might answer.
Bear in mind when opening your presentation to questions you are also opening yourself up to vulnerability. What if no one has questions? What if you are greeted with an uncomfortable silence? It is an art form to be able to open up the floor for questions at just the right moment, and actually have impactful, helpful and thoughtful inquiries. It is up to you as the presenter to inspire questions of this nature. Ask yourself, do you want to have such a comprehensive delivery that every question will already be answered by the time you finish? If so, consider asking for them in the middle instead of waiting for the end. If you have a narrative that is building suspense and wonder, be prepared for a lot of questions at the end. Use this to your advantage, and don’t be stuck with an audience full of crickets.
If the possibility of not having the answer makes you shy away from opening up the floor, that is a valid consideration. Trying to anticipate all possible scenarios helps in preparation, but inevitably you will be asked a question for which you may not have the answer someday. Don’t sweat it. Honesty goes a long way to building the trust of your listeners. Having the vulnerability to say, “Great question! Let me circle back to that one!” or “I don’t know that off of the top of my head but will definitely get you that answer—come see me after!” instead of blowing smoke is always the right move. Nervous about what a question might do for your next presentation? Ask our presentation coaches what they think today!
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