Avoid Death

How to Avoid Death by Q&A

You prepared well for your presentation. You spent hours structuring content and getting your slides designed. You practiced on your own, and with a critic.  On the day, your delivery was spot on. Your audience smiled, nodded, made affirmative noises, and even clapped at the end of the presentation!

As you felt ecstatic on the ‘stage’ reaping the rewards of your hard work, when the clapping died down, the questions came flying.


You can hear yourself gulp. Mild panic started from the pit of your belly rising to your throat.

What do you do in a situation like this?

A friend of mine once said:

“It’s not about having the answer, it’s about knowing how to respond.”

Fielding questions from your audience at the end of your presentation can feel like walking through a minefield. Even if you are a CEO of a corporation like Facebook, being put on the spot can still feel intimidating.

Here are some tips on how you can manage the questions from your audience and respond well even when you may not have the complete answer.

Build a Bridge

Just like connecting two sides of a river, bridging your audience’s question to your answer can make it seem like a smoother transition while giving yourself time to think on how to structure your answer.

A bridge can be as simple as “Thank you for asking, Lily.”

However, this phrase is very easily overused. Here are some other ways you can bridge before moving on to your answer:

• “I don’t know the answer to that right now, but I can share what we’re considering and how you can help make those decisions.”

• “That’s hard to say. Honestly, we don’t yet know all the details, but here’s what we do know and what we’re doing to figure this out.”

• “That’s an interesting question. I want to make sure I’m giving you the most accurate answer I can. Can you share more about the thinking behind this question?”

• “I’m sorry, but I can’t share that information right now. Here’s what I can tell you, and when I expect to be able to share more.”

“Questions open a space in your mind that allow better answers to breathe.”
~ Richie Norton

Less is more

Keep your answers concise, summarising to one or two sentences, if you can. The audience will ask for more details if they want an elaboration.

Take your Time

Around twenty years ago, Steve Jobs from Apple showed that even when insulted, he took the time to answer a heckler’s question and win his audiences’ respect.  Not that he didn’t have it in the first place! Keep reading for the detailed example.

Use a Plan

Think on Your Feet® is designed to tackle impromptu, in-the-moment situations, whether in presentations, press conferences, or town halls.

Changing perspectives is one of the 10 patterns in the think on your feet training to help you structure your answers clearly, concisely, and with impact.

How does it work?

When you get a question that you are unable to answer directly, you can broaden the perspective or dive into something specific that you do have an answer to.

Let’s take Steve Job’s question for example:

Question from audience: “It’s sad and clear that on several counts you’ve discussed, you don’t know what you’re talking about. I would like, for example, for you to express in clear terms how, say, Java and any of its incarnations address the ideas embodied in OpenDoc. And when you’re finished with that, perhaps you can tell us what you personally have been doing for the last seven years.”

Imagine getting a question like that!

After a good pause (to manage his emotions), taking a sip of water (to change his state) and bridging with a self-deprecating comment, Job zoomed out of the specific question about Java, and gave everyone a bigger picture on his role as a CEO.

Answer: “The hardest thing is: How does that fit into a cohesive, larger vision, that’s going to allow you to sell eight billion dollars, ten billion dollars of product a year? And one of the things I’ve always found is that you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backward to the technology. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re going to try to sell it.”

Many years later, this is proven to be one of the reasons for Apple’s immense success.

So, now you know some of the secrets of how to answer questions like Steve Jobs so that you can continue to bask in the glory of your presentation all the way to the end for the Q&A.

Insider Secret.  We sometimes say the think on your feet course is a workplace stress management workshop! 😉

There are four pillars in presentations that will get you the ‘yes’ you are looking for when making your pitch:

1. Structuring to pitch an idea

2. Visualising with slides

3. Layering style with presence

4. Speaking spontaneously in Q&A

If you started with this blog, read our other blogs in the series on your journey to become a presentation master…


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