Q and A Have you ever been asked a really weird question in a presentation? It usually starts off with “I know this is completely off-topic…but {insert wing nut question here}?”

Today’s Speech Doctor Is In Q&A comes from Angela, and she has a question about questions:

“How to you bounce back from an audience question that derails the presentation? –i.e.; what are the best strategies?”

As a former college professor, my students were the masters of off-topic questions designed to derail what I was going to say. I’ve got years of experience in this area.

Step 1: Smile and say, “Thank you.”

Smile really big and thank them for the question. It takes a lot of guts to ask any question during a presentation. You’ve got an engaged person, so don’t squander that moment.

Step 2: Assess the answer

Can you answer the question quickly and succinctly? Do you EVEN know the answer to that question? Will the answer of the question take you so off-topic that it’s not what the rest of the audience came to hear about?

From here it’s a “Choose your own adventure” strategy.

Step 3: Pick the BEST strategy to keep the person engaged and your presentation on track

If you can answer quickly: Answer their question succinctly and then invite them to come up and talk to you after the presentation to chat more about the question. It shows you care about their question while keeping you on track with your presentation.

You have no ever-loving idea how to answer: Tell them that you don’t KNOW the answer to their question but you’ll find out who does. Ask for their business card then follow-up with the answer. It’s all about the follow-up. Do what you say you will do.

Answering the question will take you to outer Mongolia: Tell the person it’s a great question, but it’s really off-topic, not what the audience wants, not what they came to hear you speak about. Tell them that you really want to answer their question and ask that they come talk to you after you have finished.

Step 4: Transition back to your presentation

Take a pause – pauses signal to the audience changing thought. Also, it gives you a moment to regroup and think of where to go next.

Next, say something like, “We were talking about {whatever topic} before that great question and now I’d like to continue on.” (or talk about what comes next.)

An advanced move – if there is any way you can tie the question to the topic at hand – do so – even tangentially. It makes the transition easier. A simple pause with a transition statement works just as well.

A strange question does not have to derail your presentation, but it is important to handle it in a manner that makes the question asker feel acknowledged and appreciated so that she stays engaged with what you have to say.

Thank you, Angela for such a groovy question. If you’ve got a question for our Speech Doctor Is In session – fill out this 3 question survey.

photo by: opensourceway