So you’ve taken the steps to prepare for the Q&A session of your presentation. Despite your best efforts, a tough question takes you by surprise. What should you do? How should you handle it? Here are a few tips that can help you through the experience.
- Ask for repetition or clarification. There a couple of benefits to doing this. First of all, perhaps the question asked is only difficult because it was poorly phrased or difficult to understand. If this is the case, simply hearing it again can defuse the situation, and you can proceed to answer normally. On the other hand, if the question is truly tough (but not impossible), this may buy you a little time to formulate a good answer.
- Never guess. When asked a question for which we have no answer, our instincts often push us to produce an answer, any answer, as long as we seem like we know what we’re talking about. This is a dangerous move. In the past, it may have been hard for your audience to fact-check you. These days, however, they can do it with mobile devices in hand as you speak. Don’t be afraid to admit that you can’t answer a question on the spot. If you are forced to give an approximate answer, make sure you clearly state that you are doing so.
- Follow up. If you have to admit that you don’t have an answer, do so tactfully, and always offer to follow up with the person who asked the question. If this is a weekly class, you can provide the answer at the beginning of your next session. If this is a one-time seminar, you can offer to exchange contact information with the audience member afterward. You can even continue the conversation on your blog or LinkedIn profile.
Again, it’s impossible to predict and prepare for every question that you might receive. When it comes to Q&A, how you manage questions can be just as important as the answers you provide.
A version of this article was originally published on LinkedIn.