By Indeed Editorial Team
Published June 1, 2021
If you're giving a presentation where you'll be expected to answer questions, knowing how to prepare effectively is beneficial both for you and your audience. Whether it's a sales presentation offered to potential clients or an informational presentation given at a professional conference, accepting questions from the audience should be on the table. In this article, we explain how to get ready for presentation questions and offer tips for answering them.
What is a presentation?
A presentation is a type of speech you might give in a variety of contexts, usually with the support of visual materials. You might give a presentation to only a few people in order to discuss a business proposition or you might give a presentation to hundreds of people as a subject matter expert. In a presentation, the visual materials that support what you say are usually in the form of a slideshow that adds context and visual support to your speech. Regardless of the reason for your presentation, you may need to answer questions about your subject.
Related: How To Improve Your Presentation Skills
Benefits of answering presentation questions
Not every presentation will require answering questions, but many have a format that includes a Q&A time. There are many benefits of answering questions during or after your presentation, which include making sure your audience feels satisfied with the information you've provided and that you have provided complete information about your subject. If you're presenting to pitch a project or gain business, answering questions well can make the difference between getting hired and not getting hired.
Answering questions during or after a presentation can also make you seem more accessible to the audience, which can be valuable to everyone involved. Your audience then sees you as someone who can answer questions on the subject and possibly an expert and you get the opportunity to provide additional information.
Related: 6 Types of Presentations To Use in the Workplace
How to prepare for presentation questions
Here are the steps you can take to prepare for presentation questions:
1. Consider what others might want to know
Your audience is an important factor in how you approach your presentation. If you're speaking to a crowd of experts in your field, your approach may be different than if your presentation is for those who don't know anything about your topic. Through analyzing what your expected audience will be, you can consider what type of question that type of audience might ask and the best way to answer those questions.
Experts are more likely to ask questions that are targeted at specific parts of your topic that are of interest to others in your field. They may want detailed answers and be okay with jargon related to your field. Those who are unfamiliar with your topic are more likely to ask general questions and may need simpler answers in approachable language.
2. Ask others what they might ask after your presentation
A good way to determine what questions your audience might have is to ask people you know who are similar to your expected audience what their questions are. This can be more challenging if you're presenting to a customer or client, but you could still discuss this with people you know who work in a similar field or position. You can either provide these people with your written presentation materials or you could actually perform your presentation for them, even if it's on video.
You can even prepare a list of questions for them to determine what questions they might ask. This could include asking about specific sections of your presentation to determine if certain key points were clear or to find out what they'd ask at the end of your presentation.
3. If possible, review other presentations on this topic
Depending on the type of presentation you're giving, you may be able to find similar presentations online that are on a similar topic or at the same event. This can give you an idea of what those audiences asked and the topics that resulted in the most questions. It can also help you see how other presenters managed their questions and what types of responses were effective. This may also give you helpful ideas for information to include in your presentation or extra information you can use when answering questions.
Related: 15 Tips To Be a Good Presenter
4. Research frequently asked questions on your topic
Another way you can prepare for the types of questions you might be asked is to research what people frequently ask about your topic online. Depending on the complexity of your topic, this might include anything from reading questions on sites made for queries or reading academic research papers. By understanding the questions that have been asked about this topic before, you can practice how you would answer in the context of your presentation. If it's more of a sales presentation, you can research what questions are commonly asked during those presentations by clients.
5. Educate yourself on your subject beyond the basics
Depending on the topic you're presenting on, you may already be an expert on the subject who can answer even the most complex questions. However, if this is a new topic for you or something you're still learning about, you may want to prepare by researching beyond just your presentation. You aren't required to answer every question, but knowing at least a little more than what's in your presentation can help you seem authoritative to your audience as they ask you questions.
Tips for answering presentation questions
If you are preparing to give a presentation where you anticipate getting asked questions, here are some tips for how to answer:
Consider vetting questions
If you are presenting on a sensitive topic or you are presenting to a large crowd where it may be challenging to organize a Q&A session, you might find it useful to have the questions screened and approved beforehand. There may be a contact at the location you're giving your presentation who can arrange this for you, or you may even be able to set up a way to submit questions to you online. Then you'll know what questions to anticipate, be able to prepare your answers and reduce challenges with who gets to ask questions at your presentation.
Tell the audience when to ask
One thing that can cause issues with questions during a presentation is not being clear about what you consider the appropriate time for audience members to ask questions. Depending on your presentation style and topic, the answer may vary, but usually, the two primary options are throughout your presentation or just during a specific Q&A section at the end. Indicating your plan for taking questions at the start of your speech can reduce unwanted interruptions.
Related: How To Give an Effective Presentation
It's okay to pause
If you're asked a question that you weren't expecting or that is more challenging, you may feel as if you need to answer quickly. However, if you need to take a moment to gather your thoughts and know how you want to answer, it's okay to pause briefly before answering. Generally, you don't want a pause that's too long during a presentation, but if you need to take a minute before you answer a complex question, it's better than stumbling over your answer or not answering the question well.
If you're asked a question that you don't know the answer to, it's better to answer truthfully than make up an answer that may be inaccurate. If you aren't sure, you can be honest about that but also offer resources for finding the answer. Similarly, you should answer in a way that's accurate about your topic and represents your knowledge well over providing an answer that fits with what you think the person asking wants.
Be clear about opinions
If you are answering a question with your opinion on the topic, especially if it is a topic that is heavily focused on factual information and research, it can be helpful to clarify when you are providing an opinion. This is a good way to avoid confusing the audience or presenting something that is your opinion as a fact. Telling the audience that your answer is your opinion on the question you're being asked is clear and doesn't interfere at all with you being seen as an authority on your topic.
Redirect as needed
Sometimes, people at presentations ask questions that are off-topic or may be focused on what that person wants to say rather than what you're speaking about. It's entirely appropriate to redirect questions if they are off-topic or unfocused. It's important that you do so politely, but you can let them know that you would prefer to concentrate on the topic of your presentation and answer any questions directly related to that.
Offer to follow up
If you're asked a question you don't know how to answer, you can offer to follow up afterward with the person asking. You can tell them you aren't knowledgeable about that aspect of your topic but that you are happy to speak with them afterward to discuss how to find the answer. If you're giving a presentation, you're often considered an authority on your topic, even if it's a sales presentation, so if you can give an honest answer that shows your integrity and tells the audience you're willing to find out for them, that can be helpful.