12 Most Winning Ways to Handle Questions When Presenting Over the Phone
Phone presentations have become more common nowadays, whether you pick up the phone to make a sales pitch to a potential client, update the steering committee about your project or review your new safety guidelines with a vendor.
With globalization, offshoring, some employees working from home and others at remote locations, it’s inevitable that you will have to use the phone to present information, whether you are an entrepreneur or corporate executive, small business owner or manager.
And it’s not just the prepared content in your presentation that is important. Questions also can be an essential part of your presentation since they enable you to build rapport with your audience and demonstrate your expertise. You have to prepare for questions as much as you do the other parts of your presentation. But over the phone, questions can be even more difficult to manage than in person, because you can’t see the audience’s reactions and whether they are paying attention. Additionally, the audience can’t see your gestures or facial expressions.
So here’s a list of ways you can conquer the question part of your phone presentation.
1. Consider whether you really want to answer questions
Answering questions is not a required part of every presentation. Sometimes, because of time, the subject matter or the audience, it’s not appropriate, necessary or helpful to answer questions as part of your presentation. As you are preparing, seriously consider whether you need and want to include questions.
2. Set the audience’s expectations regarding questions
Early in your presentation, set the audience’s expectations about if, when and how you will address questions. For example, say, “I’m going to take questions as I go along, so feel free to interrupt me” or “I’m going to handle questions at the end, so I ask that you hold them until then.” Let them know whether they should just speak up and interrupt you or wait until you ask for questions. And remember that it is usually much harder for people to interrupt you over the phone because they have to talk over you and you can’t see someone raising their hand (unless you are also using a webinar service that shows virtual hand-raising).
3. Stay focused even when answering questions
Your presentation isn’t over until you hang up the phone, so make sure you remain focused even after your main presentation is over. While answering questions, keep your voice energized and clear, continue to demonstrate confidence and minimize your “ums” and “ahs.”
4. Be prepared for questions
As you prepare your presentation, ask yourself, “What could people ask me? What would be an easy question? What would be a difficult question?” and then practice answers. Compile a list of essential questions based on your experience and by talking to colleagues about the topic. While you can’t predict all of the questions you will be asked, you can probably anticipate 80-85% of them and prepare responses. That leaves you with only a few questions you will truly have to answer extemporaneously.
5. For unexpected questions, stay in the moment and trust yourself
Despite all of your preparation, it’s possible that you get a question you haven’t prepared for. When that happens, stay in the moment and trust that you can use your experience, knowledge and preparation to come up with a reasonable answer. You can even say, “Give me a moment. I want to think about this answer.” An advantage of being on the phone is that since the audience can’t see you, you can easily jot down notes while you’re listening to the question so you can compile an answer.
6. Prepare a response to give when you don’t know the answer
Even after some thought, it’s possible that you just don’t know the answer to a question. Have something ready to say in this situation. Otherwise, you may stumble, ramble on and undermine your credibility.
A simple response will suffice. For example, “That’s an interesting question. I don’t have an answer to that right now. I will check with my team and get back to you by the end of the day.” Or, “We really didn’t consider that in our analysis. However, I can see how that would be important.” This type of response respects the questioner, shows you value the question and demonstrates your confidence. And make sure you actually follow up if you have promised to do so.
7. Stay on topic
Sometimes you will get a question that is off-topic or requires a detailed answer. You have to be careful not to veer too far from your topic or go into too much detail. You might lose the rest of your audience, especially since you can’t see them to gauge their reactions. If you must address the question, practice saying something like, “Let me address that briefly right now, and then if you need more detail, we can handle that offline.”
8. Be prepared if you get interrupted
Even if you have asked the audience to hold questions until near the end, you may get interrupted earlier in the presentation. Then you have to decide how you will handle the situation, based on who’s asking the question, the timing, the topic and how relevant you think it is. Will you restate that you aren’t handling questions until later or will you answer it anyway? Thinking about this possibility before your presentation will help you make a smarter decision in the moment.
9. Give the audience enough time to ask questions
Make sure you pause long enough to give people time to ask questions. You don’t want to ask, “Any questions?” and then move right into the next topic. Give people enough time to think of a question, unmute their phone, make sure nobody else is speaking, and then ask the question.
10. Reconsider how you ask for questions
Rather than asking, “Any questions?” try asking, “What questions do you have?” It’s a subtle shift that assumes there are questions. And then pause and say something like, “I’m going to pause for a moment or two to allow you to think about that, unmute your phones and then ask it.” And then pause, usually longer than you think you need to.
11. Keep track of questions
It’s helpful to keep track of questions for a variety of reasons: to incorporate frequently-asked questions into your next version of the presentation, to be better prepared next time if there was a question you couldn’t answer or to make sure you follow up with something that you’ve promised to do. Often it’s easier to have someone else on the call keep track of the questions for you.
12. Avoid ending your presentation with answering questions
Contrary to popular usage, it is best not to end your presentation with questions. You risk losing control of your ending if you have to reply defensively to an off-topic or hostile question. And if there are no questions, your presentation just trails off into an embarrassing silence.
Instead, do a mini-conclusion and then transition to answering questions. Once you’ve finished with the questions, then deliver your final conclusion. This structure allows you to stay in control of the presentation and also restate your message. (Thanks to professional speaker and consulting guru, Alan Weiss, who first introduced me to the idea of not ending a presentation with the question-and-answer format.)
Answering questions can connect you to the audience, help them understand your message and allow you to demonstrate your confidence and knowledge. Following these tips can help you learn to handle questions during your phone presentation with ease.
What other suggestions do you have for handling questions during a phone presentation?
Featured image courtesy of zigazou76 licensed via Creative Commons.