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How to Avoid Panic in Presentations: Coping with Questions

How to Avoid Panic in Presentations: Coping with Questions

    I’m sure you’ve felt it: the horror at the end of a presentation (which, let’s face it, can be a bit of a trauma in its own right) when you ask the following:

    “Any questions?”

    There seems to be one of two ways things can go at that moment — and neither fills you with delight.

    Firstly, there’s the Tumbleweed Option. Silence. Nothing — save perhaps for an embarrassed cough. Was your presentation really so bad that no one could understand it enough to think of a coherent question? Did you run over time so badly no one wants to hold up the next speaker, or – more importantly – get to the coffee break? Did you give such a perfect presentation that all possible questions were answered? (Spoiler alert: You didn’t.)

    Option two is worse. The Killer Questions Option. At least with the Tumbleweed Option you’ve got the silver lining that you get to leave the stage sooner. With the Killer Questions Option you get to stay there and risk exposing your ignorance. For all its problems at least you can control the main body of your presentation — during questions everyone can hear you scream.

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    These are some of the most reliable ways of dealing with questions that I’ve researched. found or observed…

    Know your subject

    Yes, yes, everyone says this but I still see presenters who think they can research just enough about a topic to be able to deliver the presentation in question and no more. I’m sure there are valid reasons for doing this, but I can’t think of any offhand.

    Take a break and go over your presentation with a fresh mind (or better yet, give it to a friend) and see what questions spring to mind. The advantage of using your friends is that they’ll have a clearer mind. I know its obvious but it’s a great way to figure out what you might be asked.

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    Buy the local newspaper and The Daily Mail (in the UK). Between them you should get a reasonable idea of what the burning issues are for the area you’re speaking in. You’ll be amazed at how often a member of the audience will find a way of asking a question which is relevant to both what you said and what their personal or local issue is. If you’re talking about exercise, someone will ask you about the proposed local swimming pool. If you’re talking about using social media, someone will ask you about the ‘horrible new proposed mast’ for the mobile phone network (and whether it’ll cause X, Y or Z in the neighbourhood).

    Have a Question Bank

    if you ever get asked a question you’ve not been asked before, note it down, decide on an answer and record that answer for next time. By the time you’ve given a presentation half a dozen times you’ll have covered most of the bases.

    Draw yourself a mind map of the the presentation — or better yet — draw one on the whole topic area that you’re speaking about. You’ll have the big idea in the middle, secondary ideas going off as ‘tier one’ and smaller issues going off those as ‘tier two’ and so on. Most questions come from the outer fringes of the mind map, so look carefully at those and prepare your answers.

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    Most people care about their own lives, not the big issues — or at least how they intersect. For example, if you’re talking about the advantages of online training over face-to-face training, questions are less likely to be about the cognitive/recall issues of electronic learning (which is perhaps a tier one issue) as they are to be about whether your training will be accessible on their particular browser (as though they’re the only person in the world using that browser) despite the fact that you may have been very clear in your presentation that your material can be delivered on any browser.

    Wrapping up

    So there you have it – the some great ways of predicting and handling questions, based upon years as a presentation skills trainer, researcher and so on… of course (and this is based upon personal experience!) there’s always the option you don’t know the answer! :)

    I know, I know…some of these are obvious. But they’re not so obvious that people do it! Others, such as the Daily Mail and the Mind Map, are techniques we’ve developed ourselves over the years and work for us.

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    And given that we’re professional presenters and trainers, we can’t afford to screw up…so they’re pretty thoroughly tested.

    (Photo credit: Many raised fingers in class at university via Shutterstock)

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    Last Updated on February 11, 2021

    Easily Misunderstood by Others? 6 Barriers You Should Overcome to Make Communication Less Frustrating

    Easily Misunderstood by Others? 6 Barriers You Should Overcome to Make Communication Less Frustrating

    How often have you said something simple, only to have the person who you said this to misunderstand it or twist the meaning completely around? Nodding your head in affirmative? Then this means that you are being unclear in your communication.

    Communication should be simple, right? It’s all about two people or more talking and explaining something to the other. The problem lies in the talking itself, somehow we end up being unclear, and our words, attitude or even the way of talking becomes a barrier in communication, most of the times unknowingly. We give you six common barriers to communication, and how to get past them; for you to actually say what you mean, and or the other person to understand it as well…

    The 6 Walls You Need to Break Down to Make Communication Effective

    Think about it this way, a simple phrase like “what do you mean” can be said in many different ways and each different way would end up “communicating” something else entirely. Scream it at the other person, and the perception would be anger. Whisper this is someone’s ear and others may take it as if you were plotting something. Say it in another language, and no one gets what you mean at all, if they don’t speak it… This is what we mean when we say that talking or saying something that’s clear in your head, many not mean that you have successfully communicated it across to your intended audience – thus what you say and how, where and why you said it – at times become barriers to communication.[1]

    Perceptual Barrier

    The moment you say something in a confrontational, sarcastic, angry or emotional tone, you have set up perceptual barriers to communication. The other person or people to whom you are trying to communicate your point get the message that you are disinterested in what you are saying and sort of turn a deaf ear. In effect, you are yelling your point across to person who might as well be deaf![2]

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    The problem: When you have a tone that’s not particularly positive, a body language that denotes your own disinterest in the situation and let your own stereotypes and misgivings enter the conversation via the way you talk and gesture, the other person perceives what you saying an entirely different manner than say if you said the same while smiling and catching their gaze.

    The solution: Start the conversation on a positive note, and don’t let what you think color your tone, gestures of body language. Maintain eye contact with your audience, and smile openly and wholeheartedly…

    Attitudinal Barrier

    Some people, if you would excuse the language, are simply badass and in general are unable to form relationships or even a common point of communication with others, due to their habit of thinking to highly or too lowly of them. They basically have an attitude problem – since they hold themselves in high esteem, they are unable to form genuine lines of communication with anyone. The same is true if they think too little of themselves as well.[3]

    The problem: If anyone at work, or even in your family, tends to roam around with a superior air – anything they say is likely to be taken by you and the others with a pinch, or even a bag of salt. Simply because whenever they talk, the first thing to come out of it is their condescending attitude. And in case there’s someone with an inferiority complex, their incessant self-pity forms barriers to communication.

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    The solution: Use simple words and an encouraging smile to communicate effectively – and stick to constructive criticism, and not criticism because you are a perfectionist. If you see someone doing a good job, let them know, and disregard the thought that you could have done it better. It’s their job so measure them by industry standards and not your own.

    Language Barrier

    This is perhaps the commonest and the most inadvertent of barriers to communication. Using big words, too much of technical jargon or even using just the wrong language at the incorrect or inopportune time can lead to a loss or misinterpretation of communication. It may have sounded right in your head and to your ears as well, but if sounded gobbledygook to the others, the purpose is lost.

    The problem: Say you are trying to explain a process to the newbies and end up using every technical word and industry jargon that you knew – your communication has failed if the newbie understood zilch. You have to, without sounding patronizing, explain things to someone in the simplest language they understand instead of the most complex that you do.

    The solution: Simplify things for the other person to understand you, and understand it well. Think about it this way: if you are trying to explain something scientific to a child, you tone it down to their thinking capacity, without “dumbing” anything down in the process.[4]

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    Emotional Barrier

    Sometimes, we hesitate in opening our mouths, for fear of putting our foot in it! Other times, our emotional state is so fragile that we keep it and our lips zipped tightly together lest we explode. This is the time that our emotions become barriers to communication.[5]

    The problem: Say you had a fight at home and are on a slow boil, muttering, in your head, about the injustice of it all. At this time, you have to give someone a dressing down over their work performance. You are likely to transfer at least part of your angst to the conversation then, and talk about unfairness in general, leaving the other person stymied about what you actually meant!

    The solution: Remove your emotions and feelings to a personal space, and talk to the other person as you normally would. Treat any phobias or fears that you have and nip them in the bud so that they don’t become a problem. And remember, no one is perfect.

    Cultural Barrier

    Sometimes, being in an ever-shrinking world means that inadvertently, rules can make cultures clash and cultural clashes can turn into barriers to communication. The idea is to make your point across without hurting anyone’s cultural or religious sentiments.

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    The problem: There are so many ways culture clashes can happen during communication and with cultural clashes; it’s not always about ethnicity. A non-smoker may have problems with smokers taking breaks; an older boss may have issues with younger staff using the Internet too much.

    The solution: Communicate only what is necessary to get the point across – and eave your personal sentiments or feelings out of it. Try to be accommodative of the other’s viewpoint, and in case you still need to work it out, do it one to one, to avoid making a spectacle of the other person’s beliefs.[6]

    Gender Barrier

    Finally, it’s about Men from Mars and Women from Venus. Sometimes, men don’t understand women and women don’t get men – and this gender gap throws barriers in communication. Women tend to take conflict to their graves, literally, while men can move on instantly. Women rely on intuition, men on logic – so inherently, gender becomes a big block in successful communication.[7]

    The problem: A male boss may inadvertently rub his female subordinates the wrong way with anti-feminism innuendoes, or even have problems with women taking too many family leaves. Similarly, women sometimes let their emotions get the better of them, something a male audience can’t relate to.

    The solution: Talk to people like people – don’t think or classify them into genders and then talk accordingly. Don’t make comments or innuendos that are gender biased – you don’t have to come across as an MCP or as a bra-burning feminist either. Keep gender out of it.

    And remember, the key to successful communication is simply being open, making eye contact and smiling intermittently. The battle is usually half won when you say what you mean in simple, straightforward words and keep your emotions out of it.

    Reference

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