Almost every time I’ve worked with clients on presentation skills training, a comment like this comes up:
The presentation part I’m fine with — it’s the interruptions and questions from the audience that throw me for a loop.
Many people believe that a successful presentation or briefing is one when you never get interrupted by the customer and nobody has any questions at the end. I used to think the same thing.
Nothing is further from the truth.
Since we give presentations and briefings for the audience’s benefit (not our own) it’s in our best interest to have the richest communication possible. That means both ways — not just you talking at them.
Here are four reasons you want every question you have coming:
1. Questions Mean Engagement
Your clients, colleagues, or management team likely have even less bandwidth than you on any particular topic. If you’re giving the presentation or briefing, you likely know more about it than they do.
When people interrupt to ask questions or challenge content during the Q&A session, it’s because your topic is important to them. They wouldn’t waste the time if it wasn’t. Consider it a compliment.
2. Gauge Audience Perception
Every time the United States Supreme Court hears a case, the media analyzes the questions asked by the justices in an attempt to predict a later ruling.
Thankfully, reading your own audience is often easier. Criticisms indicate concern, while questions about logistics and next steps can be early indicators of alignment.
Either way, the type of questions you get asked is an immediate indicator of how your message is landing with this audience. Pay attention to the tone and nature of the questions, as they provide to most immediate signal on how to proceed.
3. Correct Misperceptions
Never was a perfect presentation or briefing delivered. Never has an audience listened perfectly, either.
These two truths mean that almost always, there’s a disconnect between the message you intended to send and what they actually heard. How it happened is way less important than correcting it.
Questions give you the chance to identify misperceptions quickly and correct them. The faster you can correct misperceptions, the sooner you have your audience aligned with your real message.
4. Reinforce Your Message
The most effective presenters and briefers take time in advance to consider likely questions — and the evidence they will use to respond to these questions.
Presentations rarely end on the last bullet point or slide. Expect questions and utilize those questions to continue to reinforce your message with evidence and examples.
The Best Outcome
Beware audiences without questions. Either your message didn’t land or they didn’t perceive the topic as important.
The best possible outcome is a lively dialogue about your presentation or briefing, followed by next steps. Good presentations spark deep conversation and serious action.
Embrace the questions you receive in your next presentation or briefing and consider them a starting point for real influence.