Master Your Message Blog

Don’t Let Questions Sideline Your Presentation

Questions Anyone?Boy, have I learned about this the hard way!

You decide to allow questions all during your presentation. You have a very engaged, inquisitive audience, but you never get to make your main point. You get so sidelined with concerns and side issues that you just plain run out of time. Score one for the audience!

I can remember a breakout session I conducted at a Toronto conference where this is exactly what happened. It was on video blogging: How to come across with passion and credibility on camera. The presentation relatively quickly degenerated into a discussion and I never did get back on track. 

Discussions are NOT presentations!

While I got great evaluations for a spirited and interesting session, I never got to make my key point decisively. From my perspective, it didn’t go well. I hadn’t thought out a Q&A strategy beforehand.

A big part of the problem was that the structure of my presentation wasn’t properly organized. I hadn’t considered what my audience wanted to know.

Most presentations aren’t focussed on audience concerns. That is one of the biggest problems today with presentations. Presenters “talk past” the audience. They have a point they want to make and are going to make it “come hell or high water.”

Persuasive Presentations must be focussed on addressing audience concerns.

This issue of not addressing audience concerns is one of the core principles of my ground-breaking workshop, Persuasive Presentations 2.0. 

Consider this, if your presentation is centred on audience concerns, and you’ve handled them all to their satisfaction, they’re on your side. You’ve made your point.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Always stay in control of your presentation. If the audience gets control, you’ll never make your case properly, and you’ll appear to be disorganized.
  • Leave a Q&A session until the very end—until after you’ve asked your audience for whatever it is you want (always have a purpose for your presentation and make sure you ask your audience very specifically for what you want). Then do the Q&A session. Then summarize your key point (don’t miss this last step)!
  • Focus your key points on your audience’s concerns. Do your homework. Know what they are and address them properly.
  • Always have a Q&A question period, if you possibly can. It can be the most powerful part of establishing your credibility. It’s a chance for you to really show your expertise!

Here’s my caveat. Sometimes your presentation starts by building a foundation on which you need consensus. For example, if you’re trying to get your department head to purchase a specific new colour copying machine, you likely have to establish the need first before you can go on to present your choice for the ultimate new machine. In that case, you might ask for any concerns about the need to purchase a new copier: “Is everyone on side? Are there any specific concerns about the need for a new copier?”

In this case:

Be specific. Don’t let a discussion get off-track. You simply want a yes or no answer. This is important, because if they can’t agree on this point, you won’t be able to make your final point, anyway. 

Otherwise, I recommend leaving questions until the end. Don’t let your well-planned presentation degenerate into a directionless discussion.

Here’s a short little video (2 minutes) on Q&A sessions.

Now, I haven’t addressed all the different types of presentations there are. What are your thoughts about other presentations where questions throughout are more appropriate? I look forward to hearing your thoughts …


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