Dealing With Stressful Questions


A successful presentation consists of two complementary elements: preparation and improvisation. As usual, newbie presenters are poor improvisers. They can remember speeches by heart, but any awkward question can become fatal: they start worrying and lose a track of narration.

Nothing helps better with conducting Q&A sessions than your speaking experience. But when armed with particular algorithms, one can improve Q&A skills and eliminate signs of worry much faster than when using a trial and error method.

Below techniques will help newbies, as well as experienced presenters, cope with questions during a presentation.

Basic Rules of Coping With Questions

1. Don’t ignore a question. Doing that, a presenter

  • loses a contact with the audience,
  • demonstrates his inability to answer a question, and
  • prompts an audience to ask more inconvenient questions.

It’s more efficient to pay attention to questions regardless their relevance and tone. Sometimes it’s enough to nod, smile, or give a short reply like “yes”, “sure”, etc. There is no exact answer here, but for all that a speaker doesn’t ignore the question. Such behavior looks more natural and helps to keep the flow of the speech.

2. It’s unnecessary to answer questions immediately. Some questions are possible to answer during a speech while others are too vast to explain shortly.

That is why it’s okay to answer some questions later or never. Be careful with this rule: a speaker shouldn’t postpone all answers because it will make him look incompetent or give an impression he is trying to dodge the question. Feedback matters.

Stressful Questions Answering Techniques
1) Reacting. There are four steps to follow when responding to irrelevant, untimely, and impolite questions:

  1. Look into a person’s eyes.
  2. Give a nod.
  3. Say thank you.
  4. Continue speaking as if nothing had happened.

This algorithm works for the first basic rule of coping with questions.

2) Using the reciprocity principle. Complex or ambiguous questions may lead speakers to deadlock. The following algorithm would be more effective:

  1. Compliment a question.
  2. Redirect this question to the inquirer.

    “And what’s your opinion?”
    “And why are you asking this question?”

  3. Ask the audience about their opinion on the topic.

  4. Respond with all their opinions in mind.

3) Referring authorities. Answer the question with a reference to influencers on the topic. It will let the audience associate you with experts and make you look authoritative.

4) Dealing with negative questions. They are aimed at accuse and discredit a speaker.

“Where did you hide all the money you had stolen last year?”

In this case, the best possible algorithm would be

  • to agree with accusations in part, and
  • give as many arguments as possible to show your white hands.

5) Coping with difficult questions. This algorithm works with the following types of questions:

  • complex questions that take a time to respond;
  • questions to which you don’t know answers; and
  • questions you can’t answer in public.

The algorithm:

  1. Compliment a question.
  2. Write it down in a notebook or ask your assistant to do it.
  3. Ask the inquirer’s contacts.
  4. Promise to answer in exact time.
  5. When the time comes, you can
  6. answer the question or
  7. use the “referring authorities” technique.

In a friendly environment, most questions will be relevant and appropriate. And it’s enough to give a short answer that will satisfy a person and won’t interrupt a speech. Algorithms listed in this article will help presenters feel confident and can save them in unpredicted situations of stress.