How To Handle Tough Questions

Tough Questions During Q&A

Often my bid consulting clients express fear of tough questions in the dreaded Q&A session of their presentation: Here some tips on how to be ready for anything they throw at you.

Whether you manage a team, or are a one-man band or run a company, you probably talk in front of groups, both in prepared presentations and question and answer sessions.

In a room full of people or just a few team members, properly handling the questions and answers will either reinforce your message – or undermine it. If you blow an answer, you will lose some of the credibility you earned during your presentation.  It’s just as important to prepare for the Q&A as it is to practice what you plan to present.

Be Confident With Tough Questions

Smile and look your questioners in the eye. The eye contact shows that you are focusing carefully on the question and the questioner. The smile is an invitation to friendship and connection. It causes the audience to relax, which then automatically relaxes you.

Hidden Agendas In A Q&A

Generally, most of the questions asked by the audience are sincere and the “asker” is looking for a genuine response. But some questions are intended to either:

  • Make the person asking the question look good
  • Ensure you know your stuff – this is an opportunity to score points

No matter what the intent, answer all questions with the same approach and professionalism, even if you spot the ‘true’ intention of the questioner. Then you look good and win.

The Power Pause

If you need a moment before answering a question, take it. This gives you time to think, and you are observed thinking. A quick, snap answer will be doubted. Taking a few seconds to collect your thoughts will be appreciated. They will like that you took your time to consider the questions. Also, it won’t feel like a scripted answer.

Don’t Twitch

Nervous twitches like scratching your nose, excessive blinking, moving around, and other nervous signals are interpreted that you may be lying. I hope you’re probably not lying; it’s just nerves. However, perception is interpreted as reality, particularly when tough questions are being asked. Work and rehearse to minimize those twitches.

Don’t Weave & Dodge

The most common problem I see in Q&A sessions is the presenter doesn’t answer the question that is asked. Often it is unintentional, as the stress of presenting often means that they weren’t listening closely enough. If you didn’t clearly hear the question, just ask for them to restate the question. This gives you time to think and collect your focus.

Or, maybe the speaker didn’t know the answer and decided to talk about something else instead. The reason doesn’t matter. If you don’t answer straight, it erodes the credibility/trust you’ve built with the audience. You’ll feel like a politician, and this makes them doubt your message more when you avoid the question.

The Curve Ball

There will be one question that really doesn’t match to the presentation, or is just out in left field. You might be tempted to say ”what?”  Answer this question as you do any of the other questions, and try to tie your answer back to your main message.

Rehearse Rehearse Rehearse

I know you see and  hear this from all professional coaches, but guess what?  Presentation rehearsals WORK…!

Focus your rehearsal time on the Q&A. Ask your colleagues to write down questions that they anticipate you may be asked, especially the tough or controversial ones. Think about and rehearse your answers. If you can, run through a mock session with some trusted colleagues. Encourage them to evaluate your responses and body language. Flop or flail in private so you shine in public.

The Q&A, including the tough questions, is the last thing you do after your presentation, so it will be the portion you are most remembered for. Give it your best!