When I was practicing law, I attended a training session where the facilitator didn’t like taking questions out of order. If you asked a question that he was going to cover later, he would say, “Let’s put that question in the parking lot.”
And then he would go write the question in a corner of the whiteboard that he had lined to look like a little parking lot. He had actually drawn little “parking spaces” for the questions.
It was stupid and humiliating. I didn’t want my question in the parking lot. I wanted my question answered, thank you very much.
And that’s the bottom line: When someone asks a question, answer it immediately.
Let Your Audience Stop the Bus
Letting your audience stop the presentation with questions is critical. People will have questions. They might be confused. They might have doubts. They’re going to want to kick the tires.
Would you rather they remain confused or just ask their questions and get it all cleared up?
Imagine that you’re taking your listeners on a ride on a city bus. You want your “riders” to be happy. That means giving them the chance to ring the bell and have the bus driver stop at will.
Taking Questions Leads to More Questions – And That’s Good
If you answer questions throughout your presentation, listeners will interrupt you more and ask more questions. And that’s great! You want people interrupting, questioning, probing, and “kicking the tires” of your presentation. The best presentations are conversations where the listeners participate and get what they want. If there are lots of questions, then the chances are that your listeners are going to go away with what they need.
Getting Back On Track is Easy
The main reason that people don’t like to take questions out of order is that they’re afraid that their precious “flow” is going to get thrown off.
Not to worry. Here is how you keep your flow.
If the question is something you’re going to address later, here’s what you say: “Well, I’m going to talk more about that later. But let me give you a quick answer…”
If they ask a question that takes you a little off track, answer the question fully and then say, “And that leads me back to the second point I was going to make, how we plan to save the company $1 million next year.”
Don’t worry about whether it actually “leads you back.” It’s just a tool to help you control the conversation.
You’re There For the Listeners
I understand that you may want to answer the question later. You may have set up your presentation to flow a special way. But if your listener asks a question, something’s bothering her. There’s something that she wants to know or doesn’t understand. She doesn’t care about the “special flow” that you’ve put together. All she wants is a little help. And since the presentation is 100 percent for your listeners’ benefit, you need to stop and answer the question.
Speechworks is a communication and selling skills coaching firm. We teach professionals how to craft and deliver complex messages in a simple, persuasive manner. Since 1986, through workshops and one-on-one instruction, we have helped countless individuals become better presenters and communicators. You can reach us at 404.266.0888, firstname.lastname@example.org or on the web at www.speechworks.net