Maintain Your Credibility: Four Steps to Manage a Challenging Question and Answer Session

Even after you’ve delivered a great presentation, a tough question and answer session can impact your credibility and deflate your confidence. But when the questions get difficult, you can still keep your cool and come out looking more knowledgeable than ever if you follow these steps to manage challenging questions. Following the four-step process below will help you maintain control while presenting.

Four Steps to Manage a Question and Answer Session


1. Listen to the entire question.

Stay physically and visually focused on the person asking the question. Don’t listen with the intent to respond. Truly stop and listen to what is being asked. This shows you are courteous and care about the concerns of the people in your audience. Make sure you understand the question and ask for clarification if necessary before proceeding to the answer.

2. Repeat or rephrase the question to the entire audience.

Have you ever been in the audience during a presentation and the presenter responds to a question, but you have no idea what was asked? Don’t be that person. This works best with groups of 10 or more. It can be particularly helpful if you are addressing a potentially hostile group. Repeating the question ensures that everyone in the room knows what the question was. It also gives you the opportunity to get clarification or neutralize someone’s negative wording.

3. Answer the question.

Be honest, concise and answer to the entire group.

  • If the answer is confidential, say so and move on to the next question.
  • If you don’t know the answer, don’t wing it! Have someone make note of the question and promise to get back to them later.
  • If you know someone in the audience who can answer the question, you may ask them to answer. Be careful when calling on someone. Make sure you repeat the question to them. If possible, discuss the possibility of asking for their assistance prior to presenting.
  • When answering the question, avoid ending your eye contact on the person who asked the original question. This will reduce the chances of a follow-up (hint: more difficult) question from that same person. End by focusing your eye contact on the person who could ask the next question.
  • If at all possible, don’t go back to the questioner and ask, “Did I answer your question?” In some cases it may be necessary, but try to keep this to a minimum. You could give your control back to the questioner.
4. Return to your agenda or conclusion.

After the Q & A section is done, either return to your pre-planned agenda or go to the conclusion of your presentation. This lets you end on a positive note and gives you the last word. Thank the audience. Verify that you will get back to the people who asked questions that you were unable to answer.

To learn more:
  • Video: Watch Sheri Jeavons explain how to manage a challenging question and answer session.
  • Join us live for an upcoming free educational webinar.
  • Contact us regarding customized presentation skills training for your professionals:

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