I’m shitting in my pants thinking about the Q&A session!

I’ve been hearing this a lot.

In my business consultation sessions, my clients shared with me that during their presentations, they feared the question and answer (Q&A) segment the most. Whether it’s a pitch to clients, financial reporting to management or public speaking to aspiring university students, the Q&A session was what they dreaded and would do anything to avoid.

I can see where they are coming from, though. While all the other parts of the presentation can be prepared in advance, you just won’t know what questions will come your way. Combined with the fact that the fear of public speaking (Glossophobia! Yeah, no shit, there is a scientific term for it!) is found to be greater than death itself (check out this research here), most people would already have butter-flies in their stomach before and during the presentation. And when they are caught with questions they don’t have answers too, imagine how crappy the feeling can be.

I’ll be honest. I’ve been fearful of public speaking and presentations as well. During those days, I let things like being Chinese-educated (12 years of Chinese school) and a drop out got in the way of my confidence. So I spend lots of time researching great presenters, breaking down their techniques, finding hacks and “cheat sheets” to power-up my presentation.

Let me share some of my favourite ones here on overcoming nervousness and anxiety during those hair-puling, nerve-wrenching Q&A session, and who knows? It may be useful for you too.

TIP1: Anticipate the questions.

Sit down with your team, or by yourself, and brainstorm all the possible questions that you will be asked. The benefit of having a team with you is that you get to have questions from different perspectives. You can also ask a favour from those outside your department if you can quickly run through the presentation with them, and invite them to be the biggest a$$hole and ask the toughest question they can think off, especially from their background or work experience.

Once you’ve compiled all the questions, start grouping them by similarity, and prepare answers for each of the categories. While you can’t anticipate all the questions, putting them in “buckets” means you will have a generic answer for that. Knowing you have a list of overarching answers will psychologically put you at ease, and reduce the stress.

Oh yeah, you wanna know something funny thing about stress? It usually happens when you are uncertain of the solution. That’s where fear, hopelessness and anxiety kicks in big time. Here’s the weird thing though: the moment you have a path or strategy to solve the problem, even before you take the first step, you’ll realise that your stress is gone! Yup, stress happens when you do not know what to do to solve your problems. So now that you have prepare the answers, the stress level should drop significantly too.

TIP2: Ask your own questions

This is one of my favourite cheats, so listen up! (Ok, read up!)

Since it’s your presentation, chances are no one knows the content more than you do. And since you’ve already done TIP #1, you should already know what are the common questions you will get.

So here’s the trick: once you get to the QA part, pause for 2 to 3 seconds MAX and if nobody ask questions, ask your own questions.

Say what? Yeap!

You can start off with “Normally what my clients would ask is…”, or “Usually, my investors ask about…”, and then, address the questions with your own answers (which you have prepared). Not only will this give you more control of the presentation; but psychologically, your audience will feel that they were the ones who asked the question! This will also boost your confidence for the next questions they ask, or if, after a short pause and still no questions from them, you can repeat the move. You should probably stop after two of your own questions. Maybe they just don’t have anything to ask, and just waiting for you to close the sale!

Also, by saying phrases like “my clients” and “my investors”, you are putting your prospects and audience at ease, knowing that they are not the first to buy-in to your pitch. It suggests you have a track record, and that certainly adds to your credibility and authority.

TIP3: It’s OK to say you don’t know

I have one client who is convinced that he’s the field expert and he has to know everything; even on things that sometimes, are not related to his job scope. While it’s true that you should have most of the information within your work scope at your fingertips, rest assured that we are still humans and there is always room for growth. Truthfully, it’s not that we do not know the answer, but how we handle the situation.

In some cases, I’ve seen some presenters get offended and turned on their defensive mode when being thrown a tough question, and that’s always a NO-NO!

Instead, a tactful strategy that one could employ is to admit, “I do not have that information with me now, because it is out of my scope. But I can consult with my technical experts and get the answers for you. Perhaps, you can also let me know what are the other questions you have and I can ask the people in charge too?”

Of course, always, ALWAYS get back to them with the answers. That is just plain professionalism.

Sometimes, I will try to use this opportunity to secure a soft-close. After they have listed down all the technical questions about the products/services I’m pitching, I would say “I will get those questions answered for you. And Mr. Prospect, if we can get all those details sorted out, do we have a deal?”

That’s a technique called the “conditional close”, where you psychologically primed the prospect to seal the deal when the conditions you set are met.

TIP4: Rephrase to confirm understanding and buy time

We can agree that when we’re nervous, we tend to make more mistakes. It can be embarrassing to give a wrong answer to the valid question. To some audience, it shows a lack of focus, attention and professionalism too.

So to prevent this from happening, my recommendation is to listen to the questions, rephrase (or paraphrase) in your own words, before attempting to answer them. Of course, what your prospects or board of directors may not know is that you’re also buying time to structure your answers.

Paraphrasing is also handy when you’re being asked a question in a negative tone. Say for instance, you were asked, “Why is it that your company is always more expensive than the rest in the market?”. Instead of being defensive about it, a better way is to paraphrase the question to, “Ms. Prospect, thanks for the question. The reason why my clients are willing to invest at a premium price is because…”.

See what I did there? Not only did I include “my clients” again to reassure them that we already have other clients paying for our services, I swapped the word expensive with premium. Of course, I also thanked the prospect for the question, which not only buys time, but shows that you appreciate them for speaking up.

TIP 5: Breathe and smile!

You know how sometimes when you’re busy preparing a presentation, and you mom pops in (either physically or over some PMs) and support you by reminding you to take it easy? Yeah, you may feel that she doesn’t understand the stress you’re going through because she didn’t have similar experience, but there’s a lot of truth in her advice.

She’s essentially telling you to breath so that you get more oxygen in, which is proven to help blood circulation. And to smile, so feel-good neurotransmitters like endorphins, serotonin and dopamine will be released in your body, lowering your heart rate and blood pressure. Looks like mom has been reading this research piece by Psychology Today!

So there you have it. You have my cheatsheet to handling those tough Q&A session. And these are the exact same tips I give to my clients too, and they have benefited tremendously from it. Try them out yourself!

Hey, I’ve shared mine, what’s yours?

Business Development Strategist, Email Wizard, Content Magician and a Productivity Optimizer (codename: lazyass+cheapass), Maverick produces content for a living. With over 93% of his business starting from a simple (and often cold) email, Maverick consults SMEs, MNCs and startups on how to leverage on technology and creative story-telling to supercharge sales and rev-up customer engagement. When he's not working to put food on the table (and Lego in his son's collection), Mav loves to cafe-hop around the region with his partner-in-crime, Debbie.

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