Your Industry  

How to collar off-the-cuff questions

The ability to answer impromptu questions effectively and confidently after giving a presentation is a key skill, according to Paul Carroll.

The public speaking mentor at educational organisation Toastmasters International has outlined eight top tips on how to tackle off-the-cuff questions.

The first tip, pausing before giving a reply, is a good way for an individual to compose themselves and consider the reply and the structure of their answer.

Article continues after advert

Secondly, an understanding of the question asked is vital, according to Mr Carroll. He said: “Listen carefully and even ask the questioner to repeat or clarify the question. Most questions will be requests for information you didn’t give in your presentation or requests for clarification, especially about costs, deadline and responsibility.

“If you can’t answer because you don’t have the specific information to hand you can say, ‘I’ll have to get back to you on that,’ and do so.”

The next tip involves dealing with difficult questions. If the question takes the form of a statement, the individual can answer by saying, “thanks for the contribution”, and direct her focus on other queries, Mr Carroll said.

The fourth tip is to stay in control.

Mr Carroll said: “As a professional you must maintain a certain amount of authority. If you lose that, your message is lost – so don’t react emotionally to an emotionally charged question.

“You can slightly rephrase the question to the form you are more comfortable answering.

He added: “To be on the safe side, you can ask for written questions. You can have a small form or even index cards on seats and have a colleague collect and categorise them for you during the presentation.”

The fifth pointer requires the individual who gave the presentation never to make something up when faced with questions she cannot answer. Instead, she should consider why they are unable to give a response to the question, Mr Carroll said.

He added if the question is outside the individual’s field or the remit of the talk, she should say so. The individual could also say she will come back with the relevant information – a promise that must be kept.

The next tip involves preparing a structure for answers. Individuals could opt for a timeline structure which explores how the situation was in the past, what can be done at present and in the future; or adopt other methods including PREP – point, reason, example, point.

Practising question and answer sessions which include frequently asked questions with friends and colleagues, is tip seven, and the final pointer is to have empathy.

Mr Carroll said: “Empathise with your audience, especially if you’re delivering the kind of presentation that is likely to elicit hostile questions (for example, delivering bad news). Put yourself on the other end of your message and think how you would respond and what questions you would want answered.”