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7 Answering Questions

At this point, the presenter has:

and finishes with "Are there any questions?" (and the timer stops).

The last impression which is left with an audience is how the presenter deals with any questions from the audience. This has been appropriately referred to as the "presentation after the presentation". Correct and well thought-out answers to questions submitted by the audience will reassure the audience, including those who did not ask any questions, that the material presented by the presenter is correct. Incorrect or hasty answers will not only destroy the impact of the presentation, but also adversely affect the credibility of the presenter.

As was indicated in the section on interest and expertise, the speaker should have an understanding of one level beyond what is covered in the discussion. The truth of this statement will become apparent by how the presenter answers his or her questions.

Questions from the audience will invariably require references to the slides; therefore, the speaker should leave the last slide on the screen and should not close the presentation software until the questions are formally concluded.

We will look at three aspects of answering questions:

General Principles

The following are some principles which should be followed:

Professional Principles

An incorrect answer due to a misunderstanding is acceptable—no one is perfect. A stupid answer will make the audience question everything else the presenter has said. Always remember the following equation:

10 h of work + a 15 min presentation + 1 very stupid answer ≤ 0

Order of Questions

Questions should, in general, be answered in the order in which the audience members indicate themselves, however:

Difficult Questions

The answer "I don't know" is an acceptable to some questions. For a very difficult question, this will usually be accepted by the audience. If the question is closely related to the subject presented, this will reduce the credibility of the presenter; however, a wrong answer or a lie will reduce the credibility even more. It is also acceptable to say "I'll get back to you on that" assuming that the presenter will follow up and it is reasonable that the presenter can follow up.

If the question is not related to the topic presented, it is acceptable to explain why a question is not related to the present subject matter.

Difficult Questioners

A questioner who is appears to misunderstand a concept should be politely corrected. A curt statement pointing out the ignorance of or mistakes by an audience member will quickly dampen the atmosphere.

In some cases, a questioner is simply interested in entering into a soliloquy on his or her favourite topic regardless of how unrelated the topic may be.

A questioner could simply make a statement in order to embarrass the presenter, for example, a statement which could be "This could easily be solved with fuzzy logic." This usually merits a response such as "Thank you for informing us of that—I'm certain you will follow up on this."