If you’ve been to a presentation, you’ll find that part of the presenter’s agenda is to take questions at the end. Which means you make your presentation, and then you call for questions—just in case someone needs something clarified or in case your presentation has raised some questions.
But do you have to take questions?
Well many presenters do ask for questions. And the question zone is fine, but it can quickly slow down the pace. All that build up that you’ve done over the past 30-45 minutes can go down in flames in a second. This is because the question phase is completely unpredictable. The audience may have lots of questions. They may have no questions.
If they have lots of questions…
That’s technically a good sign. It means they’re really interested in the topic. But don’t be fooled by the raising of hands. It could well mean that you have so many holes in your presentation, that you’ve generated a whole bunch of questions that have been unanswered.
Hmm…Now you not only have to think quickly but also have to give a completely coherent answer in a matter of seconds.
And there’s always the question from left field.
A question that’s so weird, or so confrontational, that you’re in massive trouble instantly. There’s no telling who’s in your audience. And sometimes some overly smart character can take apart your carefully crafted presentation in a matter of seconds.
You know the kind I’m talking about. He stands up. He asks this weird question and then you’re stuck. You can’t always think that quickly on your feet. And sometimes the question is so bizarre that if you gave an answer it could compromise your material or your position. It could make you look stupid. Or pompous. Or distracted. There’s no telling how the audience may perceive your answer.
In effect you’re stuffed.
I totally encourage questions in a situation where I’m doing something like a workshop or training. If that’s what you’re doing, then fine, go ahead and have the question session. This is because the pace of a workshop session is completely different from a sales presentation.
If you’re selling an idea, product or service at the end of your presentation, then you have a problem because one of those random questions could be an arrow aimed straight at your heart.
And it could be worse: You could get no questions.
Have you ever stood on a podium repeatedly asking for questions? You’re sweating and your audience is sitting in stunned silence.
You’ve lost the momentum. That sweat is going to severely impact your ability to segue into the next section and sell whatever it is you’re selling.
And it changes the mood in the room as well. In any case (and I’m repeating myself here) questions are a super-momentum killer. The whole situation is extremely volatile, and good luck to you if you choose to do the question-session anyway.
My advice to you is pace your presentation to the finish—and ditch the questions
But what if you’re required to “take questions”? There are weird rules for every event, and who knows: You may have some clause in your contract that says you need to take questions.
The way I work around it, is that I say in my agenda: “If you have questions, write them down. If we have time, I’ll take the questions. If we run out of time, I’ll be happy to answer your questions in the lobby after this presentation”.
And no I don’t scamper from the lobby.
I’m always around to answer questions. But I’ve never known a presentation where you have surplus time. In every instance, it’s a battle against the clock.
And if you’re dedicated to your audience, you’ll stick around in the lobby. I will often be in the lobby for an hour or more and then available through the day. You may not be that much of an extrovert. You may want to make your presentation and scamper. I would advise you to reconsider that policy.
Even 10-15 minutes in the lobby isn’t going to kill you. You can stick around for a little while. And then head back to your room, your plane or wherever you need to be next.Every presentation no matter how perfect is going to have some gaps. And every presentation may bring up questions. You’re not obliged to answer the questions as part of the presentation.
Sidestep the questions. It’s good policy, believe me.
Next Step: “My first meeting with a client used to be nothing more than a presentation of my portfolio.”
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