« 13. Five EQ skills for answering difficult questions »

Written by Rachel Green. Director, The Emotional Intelligence Institute. She is the author of "Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking" and is one of only 800 people in the world with the highest level of accreditation in the professional speaking industry - CSP - Certified Speaking Professional.

People often dread being asked difficult questions when they are giving a presentation or speech. Fearing questions will only add to your public speaking nerves or reduce your credibility and authority. 

Senior people lose credibility if they get defensiveAllowing the audience to ask questions is a natural part of speaking in public and can be a very positive part of the experience, if you know how to handle audience questions.

Throughout the question time you need to handle your own emotions intelligently, and handle the emotions of the audience intelligently.

Check in with yourself to ensure your own levels of irritation have not risen.

Check in to ensure you are still feeling comfortable and at ease. This will help you to avoid becoming defensive.

Everything you say and do influences the emotional reaction you will receive; this is why emotional intelligence or EQ matters when public speaking.

If the audience are hostile, they would be fueled by negative emotions. Handling the emotions intelligently can help ease the hostility. 

Here are some EQ skills on being at ease with difficult questions.

EQ skills 1: Avoid being defensive

Of course, the first step to take is to ensure that you feel comfortable handling questions; in other words, you manage your own emotions first.

Stay positive towards questions being asked. This is very helpful in building confidence. If you know you'll get questions, look forward to them.

Then when you answer them do so in a positive way and avoid being defensive.

For example:

  • Do not shift your posture backwards so you go on your "back foot" as this is more likely to encourage attack. Simply stand your ground and look comfortable.
  • Do not start justifying; this makes the audience wonder why you have to defend yourself. Instead, promote and sell your ideas and information. 
  • Do not start disagreeing or arguing, you could come off second best as the rest of the audience may then side with the difficult questioner. You could simply say, "That is one way of looking at it, my key point is ...". 

Use every question as an opportunity to restate your key points and get your message across convincingly. This is emotionally intelligent.

Want to improve your confidence as a public speaker so your audience wants to listen to you? Book into our public speaking development package

EQ skills 2: Don't take questions personally

Don't take questions or comments personally. Simply answer them to the best of your knowledge.

The audience may be wanting more information because they are interested, or because they have a particular problem to solve - not because they are attacking you.

They may be unhappy with your organisation, and not you personally; you just happen to be the lucky person who got to stand in front of everyone.

They may be worried about their own security and be deflecting their worries on to you.

Take none of these situations personally. Think of it as "just a question".

EQ skills 3: Say "I don't know"

If you don't know the answer then say so - but say you don't know in a way that leaves the audience feeling good about you and about themselves. This is emotionally intelligent.

For example:

Please do make sure you do everything you promise, never offer to get back to someone and fail to do it.

A full response, when you don't know an answer, may sound like this:

"Chris, that's a great question and no one has thought to ask it before. Thank you. I don't know the answer right now but I know exactly where to find it. If you, and anyone else who would like the answer, could please leave me your e-mail address, I'll get the most up-to-date information and send it to you no later than 10.00am tomorrow".

Sometimes it is easier to hear this kind of strategy than to read about it. You can hear me coaching one of the women on how to say "I don't know" on the "Confidence for women at work" recordings. She didn't find it easy at first but you can hear how well she learns, and learn with her. 

EQ skills 4: Acknowledge the question and move on

If the audience does ask questions during your speech and you don't want to be taken away from your point, simply acknowledge their questions and thank them.

It could sound something something like this: "That's an excellent question. Please keep a note of it and if I still haven't answered it by the end of the speech, please remind me of it and I'll deal with it then".

Part of emotional intelligence and EQ is the ability to manage the emotions of others. It is the sixth competency on the Genos emotional intelligence model.

How you answer the audience and what you say influences how they feel towards you and the topic of your presentation. Thus, pick your words carefully and be affirming when you can.

Your mission is usually to generate positive emotions when at all possible, or at least to actively work to calm the negative ones down.

However, if the aim of your presentation is to encourage people to comply with legislation, you may, of course, find emotions such as concern, anxiety and fear useful.

Emotional intelligence is about all emotions not just the positive ones, and so is public speaking.

Want to engage your audience more easily and make your presentations more interesting? Book into our public speaking development package.

EQ skills 5: Ask them to wait until the end

Manage questions from the beginning. At the start of your speech you can always let your audience know that questions need to wait until the end.

I recently attended a presentation by a very effective speaker who set up the conditions for asking and answering questions right from the start. She said she would like us to wait until the end of her speech before we asked questions, as she'd found in the past that most questions were answered during her presentation.

What was so impressive about this was that hardly anyone asked any questions at the end, as people wanted to go for tea break instead. Very clever!

Enjoy your questions. They are a great way to gain feedback from the audience so you know what they are thinking and what they've learnt or not learnt.

How to improve your public speaking now.

Can you afford to have you or your team unable to engage their audiences? No! Organisations need to be represented by engaging speakers in order to get their message across as swiftly and effectively as possible. This applies to you if you are an executive or a manager too - do not bore your employees, your stakeholders or your board. We have a number of options to help you:

  1. Book into our public speaking development package.
  2. There is a definitive guide: "The beginners guide to being a brilliant MC".
  3. Read the book "Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking".

For more details or to make a booking e-mail us now or pick up the phone and call us.