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How to Give a Pretty Good Presentation: A Speaking Survival Guide for the Rest of Us by T. J. Walker

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Chapter 23. Questions from the Audience

What if I'm Asked a Question I Can't Answer?

Nothing sends chills up the spine of a presenter more than the prospect of giving a presentation and then being asked a question that he or she can't answer. Ugh! The humiliation! The shame! I'll have to resign my position, leave the industry, move to North Korea, and become a subsistence farmer!

Hold on. Don't jump off the cliff just yet. Anytime I give a presentation to a large audience, I'll often ask: Who here can personally remember a time in the past month where you or someone you saw give a presentation failed to answer a question correctly—and it was horribly embarrassing, and everyone knew it? Sure enough, at least 10 percent of the hands go up. So, yes, this is a legitimate concern. But then I'll ask the same audience another question: "How many of you remember seeing someone give a presentation in the past month, and it was so boring you didn't remember a thing the presenter said five minutes after the speech was over?"

This time, about 100 percent of the hands in the room go up. So, if we are going to worry about potential problems, we might as well play the odds and worry about having an interesting presentation in the first place, not the relatively small odds that we can answer a question smoothly.

Nonetheless, at some point in your career, you will be asked a question you can't answer. Here are some things you don't want to do:

  • Apologize.

  • Laugh nervously.

  • Wear an expression on your face ...

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