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It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over
By Marjorie Brody   Printer Friendly Version

You're pumped. The speech you just gave was received very well. You really won the audience over. Loud applause is coming from all directions.

But don't start patting yourself on the back yet. The end of your presentation does not come when you finish speaking. After your summation you still have another opportunity to face your audience, during the question-and-answer session.

The question-and-answer period will also have an impact on your audience, so do not try to escape this crucial time by sitting down or leaving the podium. This is an opportunity for you to further clarify your ideas. You don't want to give the audience the impression that you are relieved that your presentation is over and all you want to do is leave the platform.

If you are giving a training session or a sales presentation, it probably makes sense to take questions during your presentation. Don't get too far ahead of yourself. If someone asks a question that you will be covering later in your presentation, tell them so. You must also avoid a lengthy response to a question which may disturb your train of thought and the audience's ability to concentrate.

How To Handle Hostility

As a presenter, you may find yourself facing a hostile questioner. Your skill at disarming verbal attacks will reflect on your credibility with the audience and the impression they have of both you and your presentation. The following approach works well to diffuse the hostile questioner:
  • Let them say whatever they want to say. You listen while they vent.
  • Paraphrase what they have just said, and how they feel about it, without being condescending.
  • Ask probing questions to try to find out what the real issues are.
  • Say one of the following statements:

"I know what your issues are, now let me respond"
"Let's problem solve together to work this out"
"Let's look into this after this presentation has concluded"

By using this approach you have indicated that you value the thoughts and feelings of the questioner. The audience will respect you, and you will diffuse the hostility at the same time.

When your presentation is over, and the questions have stopped, or time is up, it's time to conclude. Don't make the mistake of giving a simple "thank you" and leaving the podium. Return to the central theme, revert to your closing statement, or talk about next steps. Your closing should not be lengthy, but it should wrap things up neatly.

Here are my rules to guide you through the process of a successful Q & A.

  • Early in your presentation, tell the audience when you will be taking questions; you may ask them to write questions down to save for the end; to ask throughout your presentation, or at specific breaking points during the presentation.

  • Before answering questions, listen carefully and paraphrase the question before you respond.

  • Look at the questioner while paraphrasing or include the question as part of the answer, but look at the entire audience when answering

  • Call on experts in the audience when appropriate, but take back control after they have responded

  • Set a time limit to control hostile questioners

  • Tell those with multiple questions that aren't relevant to the entire group that you will respond either at the end of the session or later to them in writing or by telephone

  • Don't let a stage hog take control

  • Don't tell a lie. If you don't know the answer to a question, say so and offer to get the information for the questioner

  • End the question-and-answer period with a strong closing remark

Article copyright© Brody Communications Ltd. 1999

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