9 tips for more sovereignty with unpleasant questions in presentations

It’s all a question of preparation!

You can make your PowerPoint presentation absolutely professional and you can pull out all the stops in your presentation techniques. But if you are caught on the wrong foot by a single interjection from the audience, the nice impression is quickly gone. Insecurity ruins your standing with the audience. But you can prepare for unpleasant questions. With the following tips, you will be well prepared for the next round of questions.

Perhaps you have experienced this yourself: You listen to a lecture and are actually quite taken with the speaker. Technique and content seem to be right; you feel a real gain in knowledge. At the end of the presentation, a question comes from the audience, seemingly catching the speaker off guard. You sense his uncertainty and a slight annoyance. He answers evasively and curtly, almost snappishly. A doubt rises in you as to whether the man is really such a great professional.

Perhaps there were many more weaknesses in the presentation, and the uncertainty in answering the question was just the tip of the iceberg. You are probably distancing yourself a bit on the inside. All the effort the speaker has put into his presentation, the initial success with which he had already won you over, has actually been in vain. And all because he let himself be thrown off track by an audience question.

Awkward questions that you’d rather not be asked can always come up during a presentation. Sometimes in our preparation we have overlooked an error in the PowerPoint slides and it is brought to our attention by the audience. A listener may have overheard or misunderstood something. Now and then, it is also the desire for provocation. No matter how trivial, outrageous or silly an audience question may be, keep your temper. In any case, you should prepare for such situations before your public appearance so that you can give appropriate answers.

Prepare for unexpected questions in detail for your next presentation!

Tip 1: Exact preparation

Go through your presentation carefully in advance and consider where questions might arise. Try to find the appropriate answers to possible questions so you don’t have to ruminate during an event.

Tip 2: Content changes

Consider what can be changed about the content of your presentation to avoid certain questions.

Tip 3: Decision intermediate questions 

Determine ahead of time if you will allow interstitial questions during your presentation or answer questions after your presentation is over. You should communicate your decision to your audience at the beginning of the event. If you have mastered your presentation backwards and forwards from the FF, you are unlikely to be easily thrown off by interposed questions. As a general rule, however, it is advisable to allow questions only after the end of your presentation, because otherwise you will easily get out of rhythm.

Tip 4: Take a stand

Never be left with an answer! You risk your reputation very quickly if you simply ignore questions. If you don’t take a stand, it will irritate your audience and they will suspect weakness or arrogance behind it.

Tip 5: Name commonalities

Take the wind out of the sails of aggressive questioners! Just when a discussion threatens to drift into aggressiveness, try to name common ground. Take out one point of your counterpart and counter “I definitely agree with you on this point …” and try to return to the factual level.

Tip 6: Set direction

If you have negative questions, don’t get defensive! Imagine you are presenting an innovative technology that you want to show in the best light. A listener asks you, “This is a technology your company announced some time ago. Why isn’t it working for any customers if it’s so great?”. If you now look for explanations (breakdowns at the customer, faulty components received from the supplier, etc.) and switch to “apology mode”, you have lost. Don’t go on the defensive, because if the questioner knows something, he can nail you with more and more questions in a defensive posture. Try to pick up the question by giving it a positive direction. For example, say, “You want to know why there are hurdles during the implementation of such a revolutionary technology?” The problem is addressed by you, but now appears to your audience in a different light.

Tip 7: Set priorities

How to respond correctly when a listener asks several questions at once. If a questioner asks you a whole chain of questions at once, pick the one that is easiest to answer. Try to answer this question as best you can. Then address the questioner again with “You had one more question.”  Suggest that he repeat the question again for the other listeners so that your answer is fully understood. Avoid phrases like “What was your next question again?” This would signal that you are either unfocused or that the questions don’t really interest you.

Tip 8: React calmly

This is how you respond to questions that have already been answered. If you are asked a question at the end of your presentation that has already been answered in detail in the talk, stay calm. It is, of course, somewhat annoying and shows that the questioner obviously did not listen properly. In such a case, do not show that you are angry. You should refrain from formulations such as “So, once again for you”, or “As I have already explained several times”, because an irritated or condescending tone will not only affect the questioner, but will also cast you in a bad light. Stay nice and be happy that this question is quite easy to answer.

Tip 9: Continue execution 

How to respond to confidential questions. It can always happen that questions are asked after the end of your presentation that you are not allowed to answer. This may concern , for example, corporate strategy, product developments or cooperations. Phrases such as “I am not authorized to give information about this” are widespread, but tend to come across as stiff and dismissive. It is more binding to add a small statement such as: “Thank you for your question. As I am sure you will understand, collaborations are negotiated with the utmost discretion by all partners. I therefore ask for your understanding if I cannot make any statement on ongoing processes at this time.”

Presentation and PowerPoint expert Matthias GartenDipl.-Wirtsch.-Informatiker Matthias Garten as the expert for multimedia presentations and professional PowerPoint presentations knows about the art of professional slide design. He is an entrepreneur, speaker (TOP 100 Speaker), trainer (TOP 100 Excellence Trainer), multiple book author, presentation coach (presentation training), member of the GSA and Club 55, organizer of the Presentation Conference, Presentation Bootcamp and Presentation Rocket Day. In addition to PowerPoint and presentation training, he inspires and advises companies to present themselves even more effectively and thus stand out from competitors. He is the business owner of the presentation and PowerPoint agency smavicon Best Business Presentations and with his team has created over 15,000 professional PowerPoint presentations for over 150 industries since 1993.