Delivering presentations at short notice can be a challenging task, so it’s worth having a few tricks up your sleeve to ensure you are prepared for every eventuality.
We delved into this topic in a recent article, outlining tips and tricks for delivering a talk off the cuff with little prep time. We discussed tried-and-tested techniques like the Rule of Three, SAR (Situation-Action-Result) and CABA, which are all vital for structuring your presentation.
But what is the best way to deal with the questions that come afterwards? Delivering a compelling, engaging speech at short notice is only half the battle — knowing how to respond to the questions that inevitably follow is the other.
Read on for some tips on how to answer post-presentation questions with minimal preparation.
The importance of active listening
We’ve all witnessed someone getting caught off guard by an unexpected question.
They either fall silent as they frantically try to gather their thoughts, or they go off on a tangent in an attempt to distract the audience while they come up with an answer.
While it is impossible to anticipate every question you might be asked, there are things you can do to maximise your chances of answering calmly and coherently. It can be tempting to start formulating your answer in your head as soon as the other person starts speaking, but you risk missing the point of the question.
Instead, try being an active listener — meaning that you pay attention, understand what’s being said, reflect on it, and respond appropriately. Doing so establishes trust between you and the other person, showing them that you are an empathetic, thoughtful person.
Ultimately, this helps to enhance your position as a genuine leader, one who cares about the people around them.
Active listening involves more than just paying attention to what’s being said. It is a multi-faceted approach that incorporates the following key elements:
- Paying attention
- Withholding judgement
Let’s look at each one of these elements in a bit more detail:
When you truly pay attention to the other person, it means you are focused on what they are saying as well as what your body language may be communicating to them. Make eye contact, show that you are engaged, and allow them ample time to speak.
This means keeping an open mind and being receptive to the other person’s point of view, even though it may be different to yours.
Demonstrate that you understand what is being said by paraphrasing key points and objectively labelling their feelings where appropriate (e.g. ‘Sounds like you’re feeling…’)
If you are unsure about anything that is being said, respectfully ask the speaker to clarify what they mean. This shows that you are committed to truly understanding them, rather than just nodding along.
Briefly summarising and restating key points from the interaction serves two purposes. Firstly, it confirms that you’ve understood the other person and solidifies your understanding of the topic. Secondly, it increases accountability and ensures that there is no ambiguity surrounding expectations and responsibilities.
When the speaker has finished getting their key points across, you can then share your own ideas, feelings, and suggestions in response to what they’ve said.
This establishes a collaborative and engaging dynamic where you and the speaker are working together to ensure clarity and mutual understanding.
Active listening vs passive listening
During a conversation, there are many ways to show genuine interest in what the other person is saying. Some of these we are conscious of, such as making eye contact or nodding in agreement. Others are subconscious and can often reveal whether or not we are really listening, e.g. fidgeting or absentmindedly tapping our feet.
The words and phrases we choose to respond with are also very revealing. For example, muttering a lacklustre ‘mm-hmm’ while looking at the floor clearly signifies that you are not engaged with what the other person is saying.
These phrases are just some examples that demonstrate active listening instead:
For further clarification:
‘Do you mean..?’
‘Could you elaborate on that?’
‘Just to confirm, what you’re saying is…’
‘Let me make sure I’ve got this right…’
‘What I’m hearing is… does that sound about right to you?’
To show empathy and validate their emotions:
‘It sounds like you’re saying…’
‘It seems as though…’
‘Wow, that sounds…’
‘I’m sorry you’re finding things tough. Would you find it helpful if I were to…?’
To encourage them to elaborate on a point:
‘Really? I’m surprised to hear that. Were you?’
‘How/when did you…’
‘At what point did you realise…’
To show that you are picking up on non-verbal cues too:
‘I’ve noticed that…’
‘Would you be more comfortable…’
‘Why don’t we…’
Using the ARR response method
After actively listening, the ARR response method can be a useful tool for crafting your response. ARR stands for ‘Acknowledge, Repeat, Respond’, and it is an effective way to defuse tough questions.
Here’s how to do it:
First, acknowledge the question by thanking the audience member who asked it, using their name if possible.
Then, repeat the question, a technique that accomplishes two things:
(a) It gives you a moment to gather your thoughts before replying.
(b) It ensures clarity about what exactly you’re being asked.
After making the person feel appreciated and giving yourself crucial extra seconds to formulate an answer, you should be able to respond to the question with confidence.
As we have seen, demonstrating active listening requires you to do several things at once. Not only that, but it all has to happen very quickly, which is where the ARR technique can buy you valuable seconds.
We know just how much expertise and knowledge it takes to be an industry leader, and how much effort it takes to deal with the challenges of everyday corporate life. That’s why NxtGEN Executive Presence offers a wide range of corporate, executive-level presentation training programs, from Spontaneous Presentations to Presenting4Success.
All of our programmes are designed to help you enhance your skills, develop your Executive Presence, and be a true leader in whatever industry you choose.
Get in touch with us today to discover how we can help you lead in a 21st-century corporate and business environment.