Presentation from scratch part two – handling questions

Last week I talked about how to structure your presentations, starting from scratch. Essentially you go old-school (analogue) and use paper-based tools to let the structure emerge.

But let’s face it, presentations aren’t just about you giving information to people – they’re about them asking for more information in the Q&A, so let’s assume your delivery rocked the world and it’s time to handle questions.

First things first questions are good. Unless the questions are, basically “What the hell were you talking about and why did you bother?” then questions are good. Why?  Because they at the very least show that your audience care.   If people don’t care they won’t ask questions.  Of course, no questions could mean that you explained everything and explained it perfectly, so don’t freak out if you’re not bombarded with a zillion questions, either.

There are a number of different tools for handling questions, and I’ve got a big, upcoming article on presentation-guru.com which looks at them, but here’s one not covered in that article… and it’s so very obvious it almost hurts to mention it!

Step one – guess the questions

Yes, yes, I know.  I’ve heard it before… “I can’t guess the questions! I’ve no way to know what they’ll ask”. Tosh and nonsense!  You might not be able to guess the exact question but you can guess the more general type of thing they’ll ask. If you cant’, you need to go back and look at your presentation again, as it’s a pretty clear indication you’ve not got to grips with it and that you don’t really understand things from your audience’s perspective!

Don’t if that happens – it’s better it happens now than in the presentation! That’s what rehearsals and preparation are for, after all.

evernote_logo_3876

Capture your presentation questions in something like everynote

Once you’ve got the ‘sort of questions’, capture them. I don’t care how you capture them, so long as whatever system you use is available to you everywhere, so you don’t miss a question as it occurs to you. I find evernote a perfect tool for this kind of thing, as when I get back to the office, there’s the list of questions al handy on my big computer.

Step two – answer the questions

Don’t rush into this. Take as long as you can to get the questions sorted. If you end up with duplicates don’t worry – better to have the question sorted out twice than not at all.

Copy the questions over into a word processor of some kind and print them off, one to a page. Spread them out over a large table (or the floor if you need). Rather like you did last week to design the presentation itself, shuffle them around to group them and remove duplicates.

Take a break. Have cup of tea.

Come back fresh and bring with you a pile of post it notes.

Now just walk around the table, jotting down onto the post it notes whatever occurs to you in response to the questions and stick them on the appropriate sheet of paper. When you’ve gone around once, stop and take a break. Then go around again. And again. Until you’ve got everything you can think of down.

The reason you jot things down, by the way, rather than just mentally check things off is to bring things to the front of your mind better and, importantly, to allow you to change your mind and correct things more easily.

Step three – answer the questions unanswered questions

I must admit, we don’t always do this last bit, because we find that putting the information down, longhand, on the post it notes does this for us, but we used to do it…

… and what we did was to look at the questions with relatively few post it notes on them and walk around the table to see if there were any sheets with

  • relevant information on post it notes that could be moved over; and
  • had plenty of post it notes left over if we did that.

That way, no matter what the question is, you’ve got something handy and ready to answer it with.

What does that look like in reality?

Below are a couple of snaps I took recently working for a client who were about to make a pitch for a £45m contract. It was a six-person team, so this technique was particularly useful for them to cross-feed information to questions that at first glance were more immediately directed at other members of the team.

IMG_1442At the start of the process there weren’t many postits!

As things moved on over an hour or so we started to fill things in. We also made sure we had a good internet connection to hand for when we didn’t know the answer to something but knew someone who did… … one quick email later and the post it appeared :)

IMG_1445Towards the end of the process, things started to be filled in a lot more! :)

And by the end of the session we’d drunk enough tea to float a battle ship but the presentation the next day proved the worth of the approach…

 

… questions were answered slickly and immediately.  And we’d covered all our bases.  Can you imagine how classy that looks from the audience’s perspective?!

Simon is one of the UK's most highly regarded presentation skills trainers and professional speakers in the fields of presenting, confidence and emotional resilience.

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