In the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ben Stein plays an economics teacher who always interrupts his lectures by asking questions followed by the infamous words, “Anyone? Anyone? Anyone?” The camera then pans to a sea of bored students. The teacher then proceeds to always answer his own questions! It’s funny, but it is also a cautionary tale for how not to tackle questions when you are presenting. So here are our tips on posing questions as part of your presentation.
Steer clear of the infamous, “Any questions?”
This is the worst way to ask for questions as it is too broad and causes people’s minds to spin into infinity. Instead, ask for any questions, comments or observations. This gives people options. Or you could be specific and say, “I’d be happy to take questions on X, Y or Z.” I often present on business storytelling, so my version of this is, “We are happy to answer your questions on storytelling in leadership or storytelling in sales.” This gives your audience a starting point and also directs the flow of questions.
The biggest fear that presenters have with asking for questions is that they might not know the answer. Relax, it’s perfectly alright not to know the answer to everything, your brain is not a search engine! When you don’t know the answer, what matters is how you handle the situation. You can say, “I don’t have an answer for you now, but I am happy to research this and get back to you.” The worst thing you can do is fumble and spin your way through an answer. Doing that can destroy the impact of your presentation and your credibility as a presenter.
Sometimes, people will ask an obscure question, or for something so specific that is really only relevant to them. They want to disappear down rabbit holes and take you with them. You don’t have to answer every question you are asked! In response you could say, “That is the perfect question to solve over a glass of wine, so happy to chat with you after.” If it is irrelevant to the presentation you might say, “Sadly, I’m not an expert in X, but I’m sure there’s someone in the audience who is an expert and would be happy to chat with you after.”
Conclude your presentation with a message
Ending on the questions, comments or observations segment leaves the end of your presentation to chance. The last question might be a curly one, or not the final message you want to leave your audience with. So always allot time for questions and then pull back by saying, “I will take one more question” before wrapping up. Then make sure you end on message.
So do you have any questions, comments or observations on this post? I would be happy to hear how you have tackled questions when you present.
As Claude Levi-Strauss said, “The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers; he’s one who asks the right questions.” Use these strategies to get your audience asking the right questions.
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