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Answering Questions

I like to leave questions to the end of any presentation I give – or, in a long presentation or training session I like to leave questions until before a break.  I let the audience know this ahead of time, as I genuinely want them to think about things and ask me the things they need me to expand on – if for no other reason, than this helps me work out what I need to spend more effort on next time.

For an introvert answering questions on stage can be daunting.  But personally I find it easier than answering questions in a one-to-one setting – here is why:

When you’re on stage, you are in control.  You can decide how you want to answer a question, and how you want to frame it.  The person in the audience generally won’t be interrupting – they’ll wait for you to finish saying you piece before asking any further points.  This lets you take the question where you want to go, and explain everything you can about it before you need to fear another question.  Moreover, the questioner won’t be able to come back and ask more and more detailed questions too often – the other members of the audience become irritated with someone who is asking too many questions – and having everyone else on your side reinforces you’re ability to take charge of the situation.

The best way to answer questions is – I find – to follow the formula below:

1.  Stand up straight, pause and take a breath.  Think about the question.

2. Repeat the question.  This is often important if you’re being recorded (because the questioner is likely not to have used the microphone well), but more important if you’re not using a microphone (because the speaker may not project their voice well and even if they do, they are unlikely to be projecting it towards the audience).  While you repeat the question, you have more time to think about how you will answer it, and also, you are ensuring you’ll be answering the question that was asked.  (it is easy to think you’re being asked a different question, and then not pay attention to what the questioner actually says)

3. Remember to be in your speaking personality.  I at least, differentiate between my speaking personality and my usual day to day personality.  The speaker is someone I become when on stage.  I have to actively remember to be the speaker when I answer questions, it is too easy to slip into being my less confident, less skilled self.

4. Treat answering the question as a mini speech.  Try, if you can to structure it.  The rule of 3 is a great thing to use here.  Even if you don’t know exactly where your answer is going, you can start off by saying “There were three factors which led to our decision:” then go through three important factors one at a time.

You might also want to consider telling a brief story of what happened in a meeting, or what led to a decision if one springs to mind.  Even if the story isn’t totally relevant it will give you a structure to hang your answer off.

5.  Don’t be afraid to pause briefly and gather your thoughts.  These pauses will feel like an eternity to you, but to the audience they feel brief – and make you look like you are calm and in control.

6. Don’t take things personally – if you’re taking about your work, or even about someone else’s work, you might feel it is your jod to defend it – or worse that people asking questions are attacking you personally.  This isn’t true, your job is to explain the background, and why you’ve made the decisions you made, and to understand any problems the questioner might have so that you can address them in the future.

7. Be prepared to suggest meeting after the presentation to talk about something if you don’t feel you’ve managed to satisfy a questioner and want to move on.

You will often find people wanting to talk to you after a presentation.  For some of my extravert friends, this is the reason why they give presentations – so they can be the centre of attention.  For me, its not so good.  Once a presentation is finished, I tend to feel overstimulated.  So I try to keep post-presentation chats short, and instead arrange times later in the week – if possible – to discuss matters in more depth.