Thursday, 21 June 2012

7 best steps to answer questions to a live audience -TRACTOR

Questions are the rate determining step of a successful business presentation. In competitve business presentations often nicknamed 'beauty parades' most times the core presentations will be pretty similar standard.

This post covers:-

Fear at Question time -  When to take questions- the TRACTOR system  - Dealing with hostile questions - keeping control - questions to your audience


Whatever  type of business presentation you make, whether it be the submission of a report, a technical presentation, a training session or a sales presentation, likely as not you will be faced with questions at some time during it.

This period of the presentation is one that even some of the best speakers fear most.

  There is the fear is down to opening yourself to risk. The questions  you might be asked are ones that you  can't answer and you might therefore  lose control of the audience.
However the more questions your audience ask, the more interested they are in your presentation.  So  learn to welcome questions as an indicator of the interest you have ignited. 

 Prepare for the questions you are likely to receive in the same way you will have prepared every other aspect of the presentation.  One useful way to prepare is to garner the help of colleagues and friends to listen to your presentation and ask them what questions come to their minds.
When they pose their questions, stop to think why they have asked them. 

Is it because you have missed out an important point in your presentation or is it because that particular section was confusing or lacked clarity?  Then go back and amend your presentation accordingly.
The better your preparation, the less likely you are to be faced with questions you can't answer.  Yet this may still happen; perhaps for one of three reasons:

1.       your presentation was still insufficiently clear on a particular point;

When dealing with questions asked for  this reason, you must clarify the point as briefly as possible.

2.       the question is outside the scope of the presentation and/or irrelevant;

Tell the person who asks this second kind of question, that whilst it doesn't directly relate to the subject of your presentation you will be glad to speak to them about it after the presentation. It is best to take a note of this so if you deem it appropriate you can seek them out after ward and deal with their query.

3.       the questioner has hit on a very relevant point that you had not previously considered.

With this kind of question, you will have to do what many people find the hardest thing of all - admit that you don't know the answer! 

Compliment and thank the person who spoke for asking an excellent question and go on to say that you will find out the answer and come back to them - and make sure that you do.

No audience expects you to know every answer to every conceivable question. 

 They will respect your honesty - provided you don't say  "I don't know"  too often, and provided that you keep your promise to come back with an answer.  If, on the other hand, you try to bluff your way out of the situation, you risk being found out and would therefore, lose credibility.


During questions and answers, you must learn to allow your audience a little control of the presentation whilst still ensuring that you retain overall control. It will help you to do this if right at the outset you lay down the ground rules for questions.

Generally speaking, if you are making a presentation to a large group, it is advisable to tell them that you will deal with questions at the end of your presentation.

  For smaller business presentations and training sessions, the increased informality means you are more likely to be asked questions during your presentation. In a training session it is important to deal with the questions as they are asked or the learning may never take place. In the smaller business presentations the choice is yours.

  If you are new to presentations it may be better to ask the questioner if you can leave the question to the end of the presentation. The danger otherwise is that you will lose your place and the momentum of the presentation.

The third way with smaller groups.

Explain the length of time for your presentation at the start. Say that there is a period at the end set aside for questions but if they have a burning desire to ask please ask. If the question is easy to quickly deal with than answr it. If you need time to think about it - take a note of the question and explain you will come back to it at question time.

This  (these questions can then be used by you straightaway when you come to questions to get over that embarrassing pause that can occur after your presentation and you ask " Any Questions"

When a question is asked, the golden rule is "listen to it".

 It is easy to use the breathing space you have been given to think what you are going to say next, but if you do you may fail to understand the question or answer the question you think was asked.

Make notes whilst the questioner is speaking - jot down the main points of their question, and their name so that you can personalise your reply. Before you answer, restate the question; this helps you, and anyone in the audience who didn't fully hear the question.

  Try to make your answer as concise as possible; don't feel the need to obtain 100% approval or agreement from every person who asks a question.

Avoid put downs
As the presenter you are in a position of power. When you answer questions you can be tempted to misuse that power - don't do it! 

If a difficult or stupid question is asked it may be tempting to quash the questioner with a funny put down or sarcastic reply. 

Professional stand up comedians use this approach as part of their act with hecklers but as a business presenter if you do so, you will risk losing the sympathy of your audience ( quite possibly your prospects) who will tend to support the member of their group who they sense to be under attack.

Question and answer sessions will be successful if you have generated the right atmosphere throughout the presentation. If you have come across as friendly and approachable the audience will feel comfortable asking you questions.

  If on the other hand you appear straight faced and overly formal, the questions are less likely to flow.

3.         Answering Questions at a Presentation - a method
Here's a simple but effective process for answering questions in a presentation TRACTOR

T Thank the questioner for their question

R Rephrase or Repeat ( depending on your style) the words of the question but relate them to your audience as a whole. Firstly this helps if some of the audience has not heard the question and secondly it keeps the audience involved and lastly it gives you a little time to think how you might answer the question/

A Answer the question to the best of your ability but again the whole audience.

C Check that you have answered the questioner's question ( this time looking at them) Further expand if they do not feel their query has been answered.

T Thank and compliment them on their question

O  Offer additional reading, web links to help further the questioner if appropriate

R   Return to the audience for more questions


On occasions you will be confronted by the truly hostile questioner who is out to make life difficult for you.

In such situations the audience will usually sympathise with you and react against the hostile member.  You may see indications of this as they throw glances at each other or raise their eyes to the ceiling.  Whatever you do, don't respond to this support by using it as a base to attack the hostile member of the group.  If you do you will immediately see their support switch back to the fellow group member.

Be polite, ask the reason for the question and ask for the questioner's solutions.  You may find that in this way you deflect much of the hostility.  You can enlist the support of your audience by asking if any of them have any views on the question.

There are some phrases which are very popular, particularly with politicians, whilst answering questions.  Here are some of them:

1.       "I'm glad you asked me that" means "Give me time to think how I can get out of this one".

2.       "I think what you're really asking me is ...." means "I don't want to answer your question but let me give the answer I have prepared to a different question".

3.       "That's a perceptive question" means "What the hell is he trying to get at?"


Use body language to encourage questions and to control the session.  If you retreat or move out to the side of the room, the members of the group may take over, particularly if they know each other well and if they are senior to you.  You must decide from whom to take questions and in what order.  You are controlling the session like a conductor with an orchestra.  Just like the conductor, keep your eyes on every member of the group so that you know who indicated first that they had a question and that you give everybody a fair opportunity.  If you do this the discussion will be directed towards you, but if you abdicate they may start talking amongst themselves.


So far we have looked at how to deal with questions from the audience.  You may however wish to ask them questions.

If you have a question make it clear and easy to answer.  Allow time for them to consider it before assuming that no one wishes to answer.  Always allow time before asking somebody to answer the question.

 Avoid  nominating an individual before you ask the question, as that can put them under considerable pressure and you are unlikely to get a good answer.

You may have decided in advance what answers you are looking for and the danger then is that you ignore the answers you don't want and pounce on those which fit into your plan! 

 Remember to acknowledge every answer particularly if it seems a silly answer - it is your task to protect the respondent from any ridicule the group may show.

If you have done your preparation and established a good rapport with your audience then, with practise, you will find the question and answer session to be an enjoyable and rewarding part of your presentation.

Related Links

Tips to control nerves  at business presentations

Use of VOICE in Effective Business Presentations

Tips on resenting with PowerPoint in business

Presentation Skills

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