How to Respond to Difficult Presentation Questions

Project managers often give presentations to groups such as senior leaders, boards, and third-party vendors. The truth is most people are afraid of public speaking. After all, we may make a mistake and be criticized. Let’s discuss how to respond to difficult and sometimes unexpected presentation questions. 

picture of microphone

8 Ways to Respond to Questions

Allow me to share a few tips that can help you to answer with greater ease:

  1. Have someone play the devil’s advocate. When practicing your presentation, ask a person or two to listen and ask challenging questions. Compile a list of questions that might be asked.
  2. Respond with the questioner’s name. If you are presenting to a smaller group such as a board, prepare yourself with their names. When replying, start with the questioner’s name. For example, “Mr. Smith, here is how we plan to handle this situation.” If you don’t know everyone’s name, call no one by name.
  3. Rephrase the question. Before answering, make sure you understand the question. You might say, “What I hear you asking is….” This technique also gives you a little more time to think about your answer.
  4. Ask the questioner to repeat the question. If the question is vague, say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t follow your question. Would you please restate the question?” Never answer a question until you are clear about the question.
  5. Answer succinctly. People get themselves into trouble with long-winded answers. Speak to the heart of the question and move on.
  6. Redirect the question. If there is someone present who is in a better position to handle the question, ask the individual to respond.
  7. Commit to following up with an answer. No matter how much you prepare, you may encounter a question or two that you can’t answer. That’s okay. Simply reply, “I don’t know. I will be glad to find out and send you the information.”
  8. Handle one question at a time. You may receive a series of questions — all at once — from an individual which can make it difficult to remember everything. Repeat and answer the first question. If you don’t remember the subsequent questions, simply ask the individual to repeat each question; then answer.

3 Ways to Improve Your Presentations

Ninety percent of a project manager’s job involves communication. Want to become a more confident speaker and effective leader? First, read my article–10 Ways to Improve Your Project Presentations.

Second, join Toastmasters International where you will learn tips and techniques to improve your public speaking. You’ll have the opportunity to speak to a local group of individuals like you and receive candid and encouraging feedback.

Furthermore, you may be able to find a special Toastmasters Group like the PMI Atlanta Toastmasters dedicated to the development of the project management practitioner. This group helps project managers perfect skills such as writing, speaking, listening, and evaluation, just to name a few.

Finally, allow me to recommend a book: Communicate to Influence by Ben Decker and Kelly Decker. I read this book a couple of years ago and gained valuable insights on how to ignite change and inspire action.

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