Vulnerability and Q&A


You've done your research, analyzed your data, organized the information, prepared your visuals. You've rehearsed your presentation several times in your mind and hopefully once or twice in front of colleagues or the mirror. You're now standing before your audience, ready. You've prepared for this moment.You begin your presentation.

At the beginning, you make contact with your audience. You're tight but after about a minute (which can seem like ages) you begin to feel the flow. You're rolling. It's going well.

You're 5 minutes into your presentation when a hand goes up in the audience. Uh oh, what's this? It could be a question or a comment or… So you stop your presentation to acknowledge the audience member. You tensely listen. Your mind is flooded with concern and doubt: What are they asking? Why are they interrupting? Am I not clear? How do I return to my presentation and get back on track? Will this question or comment trigger others? Is that good or bad? Should I tell the audience to hold their questions for the Q&A session?

You listen to the question, answer it and gingerly move on.

You've finished your presentation and now you're ready to take questions… or are you?

You can prepare, rehearse and deliver a strong presentation. Yet, you can never be sure of what the audience will ask you during or at the end of your presentation. What's worse, you have no way of knowing just how they will pose their questions.

They may say, "I have concerns over your recommendation," "How do you see it working?"  Or they can aggressively say, "Your recommendation is ridiculous. It won't work!"

How does one handle this situation, what I call, one of the most vulnerable moments of one's life?

You're basically alone on an island. The audience is shooting arrows at you. You have to skillfully and strategically weathered the storm. If you excel in the Q&A session, you make your mark and you succeed. If you falter, freeze, show weakness or react, you run the risk of professional humiliation and you will remember that moment every day for the rest of your life.

There is no perfect antidote for the potential poison of Q&A. However, here are some tested and tangible skills that will help you immensely:

Prepare: Nothing replaces preparation. Consult with your colleagues or think about what they will ask, where might they attack, possible weak points. I suggest you jot down these question and write down your answers. By writing the questions and your answers, you will feel more prepared, more confident and you will remember your answer when the question is asked.

Rephrase the question for the audience: This is an outstanding technique. After listening to the question, rephrase the question for the audience. This guarantees that everyone in the audience will hear the question and it gives the speaker thinking time to answer the question.

For example, if the audience member asks,

"You're requesting a major investment. How long will it take for us to start making money?"

The speaker will rephrase, "When do we expect to receive a return on our investment?"

In the case of an attack, the audience member may say, "You're idea is ridiculous. It will never work!".

The speaker will rephrase, "Will our idea work?" The speaker will then answer the question of why the idea will work.

With this technique, the speaker has a few additional seconds to think, to position the answer and to deliver it with confidence.

Q&A is never easy. Our techniques and strategies have helped thousands succeed and confidently handle this most vulnerable moment.

Please feel free to share your questions or concerns or a personal anecdote about handling Q&A.

The Chemist's Lesson – Handling Questions in Presentations

According to the chemist, he delivered a quality presentation. He was happy with the flow. He was confident during the presentation and he felt that he had reached his audience. He presented research that he had been working on for several years.

He finished presenting his last visual and the audience greeted him with a heart-warming applause. He confidently asked the audience if there were any questions and there were several. The first few he handled with no problem. The questions referred to the results of his research and were no problem for this expert.

The chemist then smiling, selected the next questioner. An audience member stood up and very firmly stated that based on the work and research of a fellow colleague, everything that the chemist presented was wrong. The chemist's face went blank, neutral and the chemist froze. He did not know what to say nor how to respond. He uttered some sounds but basically lost control. Unfortunately, the Chemist will remember that day of humiiation for the rest of his life.

Handling questions at the end of a presentation is one of the most vulnerable moments in a person's career. You know what you're going to present but you never know with total certainty what the audience might ask, a comment they make or how they may attack you. You must prepare! Here are some tips:

Expect the unexpected-sit down with some colleagues and have them present every issue they can think of. Write down the questions and your answers.

Rephrase the question prior to answering - Break visually from the questioner and rephrase the question. This technique has several benefits, the most important being that it provides you with thinking time.

Don't finish your answer looking into the eyes of the questioner- this is an automatic invitation for the questioner to ask you another question.

Good luck and feel free to share your experiences.