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prepare yourself for awkward questions

9 tips to show sovereignty with unpleasant questions

April 26, 2016

A matter of preparation!

You can design your PowerPoint presentation absolutely professional and you can pull out all the stops in your presentation techniques. But if you are caught on the wrong foot by a single intermediate question from the audience, the beautiful impression dispels. Uncertainty ruins your standing with the public. But you can prepare yourself for awkward questions. With the following tips, you will be well prepared for the next round of questions.

Perhaps you have already experienced it for yourself: You are listening to a lecture and get quite impressed of the speaker. Technology and content seem to agree; you really feel you´re gaining knowledge. At the end of the presentation, the speaker is caught unprepared for a question that comes from the audience. You felt his uncertainty and a slight annoyance. He answers evasively and curt, almost snippy. You start to doubt whether that man is actually such a big skilled. Perhaps there were even more weaknesses in the presentation, and the uncertainty by answering the question was just the tip of the iceberg. Presumably you will set inwardly distance. All the effort that the speaker has made for his presentation, the initial success with which he had won you, is actually in vain. And all because he put himself off his stride through a public issue.

Unpleasant questions that you´d rather not answer, can always arise during a presentation. Sometimes we have overlooked an error in the PowerPoint slides in our preparation and we are alerted by the public. Maybe a listener has ignored or misunderstood something. Every now and then there is also the desire for provocation. No matter how banal, cheeky or dimwit an audience question looks like, keep calm. In any case, you should prepare yourself before your public appearance for such situations, so that you can respond appropriately.

Prepare your next presentation for possible unexpected questions!

Tip 1: Exact preparation

Thoroughly examine your presentation in advance and think where the possible questions will arise. Try to find the right answers to all possible questions, so you don’t have to ponder during the presentation.

Tip 2: Content changes

Consider what can be changed in the presentation´s content to avoid certain questions.

Tip 3: Interposed questions, yes or no?

Decide in advance whether you allow interposed questions during the presentation or if you prefer to answer questions after the end of your presentation. You should tell your decision at the beginning. Once you master your presentation forwards and backwards, you won´t probably put yourself off your stride through interposed questions. Basically, it is advisable to allow questions only after the end of your presentation, because otherwise you can easily miss the beat.

Tip 4: Take a stand

Always answer questions! You risk your reputation very quickly, if you just ignore questions. Not taking a stand will irritate your audience, and they will interpret it as weakness or arrogance.

Tip 5: Designate similarities

Steal aggressive questioners´ thunder! Especially when a discussion threatens to drift into aggressiveness, try to identify similarities. Take a point of your counterpart and reply “I agree with you on this point …” and try to return to the objective level.

Tip 6: Set the direction

Don´t get defensive facing negative questions! Imagine, you are presenting an innovative technique that you want to show in the best light. A listener asks: “This technique was announced by your company some time ago. Why don´t you use it with customers, if it´s so amazing?” If you stop to think answers at that moment (breakdowns, faulty components from suppliers etc.) and switch to the “Apology” mode, you have lost. Don´t get defensive, because if the questioner realises it, he can pin you down with ever more questions. Try to redirect the question to a positive direction. Say for example: “Do you want to know why there are hurdles during the implementation of a so revolutionary technology?” You are addressing the problem, your audience will observe you from another perspective.

Tip 7: Set priorities

This is the way to respond properly when a listener provides several questions at once. When a listener asks you several questions at once, pick up first that ones that are the easiest to answer. Try to answer this question as well as possible. Then speak back to the listener: “You had one more question.” Suggest him to repeat the question for the rest of the audience, so your answer is fully understood. Avoid phrases such as “What was your next question?” This would indicate that you are either unfocused or the questions aren´t important for you.

Tip 8: React with calm

This is the way to respond to already answered questions. If someone asks you a question after the end of your presentation that was already answered in detail in the presentation, keep calm. Of course it is a bit annoying and shows that the questioner has obviously not been listening properly. But never show that you are angry about that. You should about words such as “So, again for you”, or “As I have repeatedly explained”, because an angry or condescending tone will affect the questioner and will also be detrimental for yourself. Stay nice and happy because this question is quite easy to answer.

Tip 9: Continue

This is how you should respond to sensitive questions. It can always happen, that some questions asked at the end of your presentation questions shouldn´t be answered. This may be related, for example, to the company’s strategy, product development or cooperation. Phrases like “I am not authorized to provide information” are common, but seem rather stiff and hostile. It´s better to add a little explanation, such as: “Thanks for your question. As you will surely understand, the cooperation between all partners is dealt with the utmost discretion. Therefore, I ask for your understanding if I can give no statement about running processes at the present time.”


Matthias Garten founder of presentation agency smavicon an presentation expertMatthias Garten is an expert of multimedia presentations. He is businessman, speaker (TOP 100 Speaker), trainer (TOP 100 Excellence Trainer), author of various books, presentation coach (presentation training), a member of the GSA and the club 55, organizer of the presentation conference, the presentation bootcamp and presentation rocket day. In addition to PowerPoint and presentation trainings, he inspires and advises companies to present themselves in a more effective way and to stand out as competitors. He is proprietor of the presentation and PowerPoint agency smavicon Best Business Presentations and has created with his team since 1993 over 10,000 presentations for over 150 industries.

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