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One hallmark of a confident presenter is how you handle questions.

In today’s post, we will look at how not just answering questions but asking questions during your presentation can be a powerful strategy.

For example, the usual approach would be to directly dive into the information you wish to share.

You might do this either by presenting a startling fact or statement that makes your audience sit up and pay attention.

But even better would be to turn that startling fact into a question, thereby engaging the audience at an entirely different level, right at the beginning.

Simply put:

  • The statement informs.
  • The question provokes.

When you begin your presentation by posing a question, you will get them to start thinking about the subject of your presentation – even before you share the facts and figures that answer your question.

Be sure to phrase the question in a way that is inclusive rather than arrogant. For example, not “How is it possible that no one realized the importance of…” but rather, “Thinking about the topic at hand, it struck me – why has no importance been given to… “

A “we” is better than an “I” – for example, not “Isn’t it time I showed you the way to…” but rather, “Isn’t it time we explored new ways to …”

And of course, a direct question to the audience would also work well, something like: “Have you ever found yourself in a situation where…”

In order to be able to frame the right opening question, you need to have a fairly good idea of who your audience will be, and what are the kind of questions that are likely to draw them in.

Of course, having asked a brilliant opening question, you must answer it through your presentation, so that the audience realizes that you are well-informed and entirely in control of your subject.

So that’s before your presentation.

After your presentation, it is always a good idea to have a window of time set aside for a Q&A with the audience.

In order to prepare for this, play the devil’s advocate! Try and formulate beforehand the most difficult questions that might come up. These may be based on disagreements with your summation or even your premise, and if you haven’t thought those through you may not be able to answer a tricky question with the appropriate confidence.

You may be asked to justify statements made, methodologies proposed or even the credibility of data presented. If you’ve done your homework and know your subject well, you will be ready with answers that inspire confidence.

There could also be entirely unforeseen questions that may derail you for a moment or two. You can handle it in two ways:

One: You can bluster, pretend to know the answer when you don’t, fumble and make both yourself and the audience uncomfortable.

Two: You can be honest, and admit that you genuinely don’t have the answer – yet. At moments like this, there’s no better strategy than to say to the questioner, “Thank you for giving me new food for thought, do let me explore that aspect further and get back to you?”

Being authentic is always better than being defensive. It disarms the questioner, and reveals your willingness to learn, which is always a good thing.

And finally, there’s a third scenario: What if – after you end your presentation and invite questions, there is a deafening silence?

It does happen, and it can be a bit embarrassing. Not to worry, though. Sometimes it’s because members of the audience are still processing your presentation and need a bit of time to formulate their questions.

Be prepared for this awkward moment by having some questions of your own ready.

Questions that you feel will help achieve closure, reiterate a key message or goal – in other words, go prepared with an “ideal” question or two that can help you round off your presentation in a way that is both strategic and sound.