Questions are a sign of a healthy presentation. They typically indicate interest and create important opportunities to interact and gain insight into a prospect’s thinking. Therefore, it’s not surprising that most salespeople have a knee-jerk reaction to answer every question on the spot.
But does every question require – or deserve – an immediate or full blown answer?
What about questions that may take you deep into the weeds, eat up time, confuse or even alienate other audience members? Or questions from people with conflicting agendas or ulterior motives? These are the types of things that can quickly derail your presentation (and the deal!)
Keeping an open dialogue with your audience is vital to a successful presentation today. But you must balance that with the clock and your – and your prospect’s – objectives for the meeting. To be an effective salesperson, you must have a strategy for handling questions in your presentation.
Handling Questions in your Presentation Strategy 1: Know your options
When it comes to handling questions in your presentation you have three basic choices: Answer it right away, park it to address later in your presentation, or defer it for a separate call or meeting. Knowing how and when you’re going to answer a question is the hallmark of a great presenter.
Strategy 2: Evaluate on proven criteria
The following five considerations can help you evaluate questions and determine when and how to answer them.
Who is asking?
A presentation is not a democracy. Consider who asked the question. If it’s the highest ranking person in the room or someone with a “C” or a “V” in their title, you’ll of course want to answer the question right away. For all others, use the following points to determine when to best address them.
How relevant is it?
If the question furthers the discussion on the topic, adds insight or value to your audience, then answering it right away makes sense. If it’s off-topic or of interest only to a small percentage of your audience, stop. Consider offering to discuss it after the close of your presentation or at a later date. Those who aren’t interested will appreciate it!
How complicated is it?
Multi-part questions or highly technical questions have the potential to take you down a rabbit hole you may never crawl out of. Unless you are doing a deep-dive presentation or demo or the majority of your audience is comprised of technical people, it’s best to park it and cover it later during the presentation (if time allows) or, as mentioned above, after the presentation in a separate call or deep dive on that topic.
PRO TIP: Listen carefully to the question. Does it require a full answer or will “yes” or “no” suffice? Don’t over-complicate it. There is nothing wrong with being short and to the point – especially with high-ranking people!
How much time will it take to answer?
If you can answer the question in less than thirty seconds, it’s probably best to do that immediately. If it’s going to take longer than that and/or lead to a number of follow-up questions (see #3) consider parking it for later or asking for permission to address in a future session.
Is there an alternative agenda?
Most presenters have at one time had someone in their audience who has a conflicting agenda. Someone who is either against the project, has a relationship with another vendor, or feels threatened. Whatever the reason, questions from these individuals tend to be antagonistic and designed to trip you up or make you look bad.
Rather than get into a potential showdown with this person, respectfully tell them that you’d like to get through your agenda and address the question with them later (preferably off-line) when you “have enough time to give it the full answer it deserves.” If you handle detractors early in your presentation they are likely to lose interest and go search for someone else to harass. Read more here about 4 types of people who can disrupt your presentation – and how to handle them.
Welcome questions, but ensure your success by having a strategy in place for handling questions in your presentation. Knowing in advance what questions to answer and when will allow you to successfully balance objectives with audience needs and make the most of each presentation. And that is indeed a winning strategy!