Presentation structure: Handling the questions at the end

by Peter Watts

The most valuable thing that you can know when asked a question is frequently not so much the answer, but why the person is asking the question in the first place:

 

Interest

Your presentation has provided just enough information to hook the audience’s attention and now they want to know more!

 

Gratitude

The audience enjoyed your presentation, and liked the way you put forward your ideas. They are now showing polite appreciation by putting a couple of final questions to you.

 

Security

The audience has been tempted by your message, and is looking for further reassurance before they move to the next stage with you.

 

Misunderstanding

Something you said in your presentation didn’t quite make sense or has been misunderstood. The audience is therefore giving you the opportunity to clarify.

 

Vested interest

Someone in the audience has a vested interest in discrediting your message. Their hostile questioning is their attempt to do so, while at the same time betraying their hostility both to you and to their colleagues.

 

When taking questions at the end of a presentation, it’s important to keep in mind two things:

 

There are several reasons why someone might be asking you a question. It’s important to understand that reason and then handle the question accordingly.

 

There is no rule that says you are the oracle-of-all-wisdom. It is 100% acceptable to say to someone, “That is a great question and I’ll need to check with a colleague to make sure I bring you the correct answer.”

 

Here is the basic process for handling questions:

 

Maintain open body language

It is easy for us to slip into a defensive body posture when being questioned. This sets the questioner up for confrontation even when the question itself is completely innocent. Make sure you do not fold your arms or place your hands on your hips while taking a question.

 

Listen carefully

While someone is putting a question to you, concentrate on listening to their every word. Remember that there may be any one of several motivations behind the question and unless you listen carefully, it will be difficult to identify exactly what information your interrogator is seeking.

 

Check your understanding

Repeat the question back, gently re-phrasing it a little, and ask the questioner to confirm that you have correctly understood them. If you yourself did not understand any part of the question then ask them to tell you a little more before you answer. You would be surprised at how often this exercise prevents some major misunderstandings.

 

Answer honestly

If you can answer the question, then go right ahead! If however you are unsure, then be upfront about this and say that you will need to check with a colleague.

Not only does this boost the audience’s perception of your integrity as a speaker, it also creates a valuable follow-up opportunity for after your presentation!


Presentation structure: Concluding your presentation

by Peter Watts

Congratulations! You’ve navigated the majority of your presentation. You’ve delivered a clear introduction, and guided your audience through the evidence that backs up your arguments. Now it’s time to wrap-up the show with your conclusion.

The conclusion of your presentation is the section that the audience will remember the most clearly, for the simple reason that it will have been the last thing they heard. It’s also most probably the last thing you will have planned and rehearsed, and for that reason conclusions can often be surprisingly weak. Presenters can often be observed to deliver strong presentations that suddenly come to an abrupt halt! This type of conclusion is known as an “Emergency Stop”, when the presenter, realizing that they have said all they intended to say, flounders for a moment before uttering a simple “Thank you for your time”, and awkwardly leaves the stage.

As an observer it can be amusing to watch the audience at such moments. Many literally jump in their seats, exactly as if they had indeed, been passengers in a plane that has just made a bone shaking landing after an otherwise smooth flight!

Think of the stages involved in an aircraft coming in to land. First of all the passengers are instructed to put on their seat belts and prepare for landing. The crew walks the aisles checking everyone is strapped in and all lose items secured before the captain guides the plane down to a, hopefully, smooth connection with the ground. Finally, as the passengers depart, the last thing they hear  is “Thank you for choosing this airline, and we hope to see you again soon.”

If you keep this model in mind, then you will have all the stages necessary for your conclusion:

Prepare for landing

As you start your conclusion, state firmly that this is what you are doing. The conclusion is a vital part of the presentation, so make sure everyone is primed, listening, and has their seat in the upright position.

Land the plane

You want to make sure that the wheels on which your argument rest will connect firmly with the ground. To ensure those wheels are down and locked into position, re-state the key points in your argument, summing them up in the sequence that they were delivered, and linking them back to your key message.

Thank the passengers

It’s essential to thank the audience for their time, and to tell them what you hope will happen next. What is your objective for this presentation? What realistic action do you want the audience to take next? Is it to book a follow-up meeting, or visit a web-site, or to start a business review process? Whatever your goal, state it as a call-to-action as your final words.

Before the audience does depart however, it is very possible that they may have questions for you. The subject of how to handle those questions will comprise our final installment on presentation structure, next week.

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