Public speaking question: How do I handle a Q&A?
Question: “I’ve got a big presentation coming up, and there’ll be a question-and-answer period following my speech. I’m a little nervous that if I don’t know the answer to a particular question, I will lose credibility in the eyes of my audience. How should I handle this situation, if it arises?” – Sandra, Hamilton ON
Answer: Ah, the dreaded Q&A…as if speaking wasn’t already challenging enough! As a speaker, you’ve probably done a lot of research to prepare for your presentation and your Q&A session. However, difficult-to-answer questions can still come up, and it’s very smart of you to prepare for this possibility. I have some suggestions for how you can handle this situation confidently. First, it’s okay to admit if you don’t know the answer. In some instances, it’s acceptable to deflect the answer back to the audience. For example: “That’s a great question. Does anyone here have any insight on it?” If you are expected to be the undeniable expert and it isn’t possible to ask the audience, then simply admit that you don’t know, and then promise to get back to the questioner with the response. For example: “Interesting question. I’m not sure of the correct response. I will find the answer for you, and get back to you by tomorrow.” And then don’t forget to get back to them!
You won’t lose credibility or the respect of your audience if you admit that you don’t know the right answer. We’re all human, and we’re not perfect — and your audience doesn’t expect you to be either. The one way that you WILL lose credibility is if you guess an answer. You only have a 50% chance of getting it right — and unfortunately, there’s an even greater chance that someone in your audience will know the answer. And you definitely don’t want to be exposed as someone who tries to pull the pool over the audience’s eyes. Now THAT is a credibility-killer.
Do you have a question about public speaking? Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll answer it in a future blog post.