THE definitive list of ways to handle questions. (Or is it?)

I’ve blogged before about the options you have when someone asks you a question.  These are particularly handy when you’re making a presentation, although they come in handy when being interviewed as well.  Politicians use them all the time.

nervous-presenterSince I wrote my original article I have come across a few more, which I thought I’d share today.

They are what you might call more advanced options, and may require some practice and careful use.

Just to remind you, here are the basic 5:


  1. Answer it.  Use only when you know the answer, are confident no one else in the audience knows, and it’s a useful and relevant question which you have time for.
  2. Deflect it. Give it to someone else:  “What do other people think?”, accompanied by a sweeping hand gesture around the whole audience.  Use this when you don’t know the answer, or want to involve the audience.
  3. Reflect it. Give it back to the questioner.  A good device for letting an expert show off (that’s why she asked the question in the first place, so if you allow her to show off she doesn’t need to any more).  Also great for handling stupid or cynical questions (they soon stop asking these once they know you are going to give them back).
  4. Defer it. Tell them you’re going to cove that later.  This leaves you in control and saves time.
  5. Scope it. Take it offline.  Do this for specialist questions, or those that are irrelevant or you don’t have time for.  Also those it suits you not to deal with publicly.

And now for the more advanced versions:

  1. Ignore it. Pretend you didn’t hear.  Just keep going, and hope they go away.  Use this one very carefully as it can aggravate the audience.  Politicians use it all the time.  It’s a great one for cynical questions, and if nothing else leaves you in control.  For a while at least.
  2. Answer a different question. Use the question to tell them something that you want them to hear.  Useful if the question is awkward, or you don’t want to (or can’t) answer it.
  3. Tell them they are asking the wrong question. I love this one.  It requires a high degree of confidence to pull it off, but if you do you can win the admiration of the audience.  “That’s not the question you should be asking me.  What you should be asking is…..”  It works off the premise that the audience doesn’t know what it doesn’t know, whereas you do, so it’s hard for them to argue with you on this.

Please note that of these 8 options, only one involves you answering it!

Most people feel obliged to give a quickfire response, which has to be 100% correct, otherwise people will think they did a useless job.  This is of course nonsense, as you could never know everything about anything, so why bother?  Be happy that the answer is often sitting within the audience anyway, and you are allowed to not know the answer.

My final tip:  whatever you do, DO NOT ask people to keep questions until the end.  If I have a question 10 minutes in because I do not understand something, and you tell me I have to wait until the end, I am now out and wasting my time.  This technique is used by weak presenters who are scared of questions, and they hope to keep going until it’s too late for questions.  Allow them in throughout:  they energise, they help people to understand and clarify, and make into a more interactive session, and less of a presentation.  You can relax and ditch your self imposed Presentation Nerves.  Everybody wins!

When you’ve dealt with the question go back to your agenda and break eye contact with the questioner: you don’t want them thinking they can hog the whole show.

There may well be some more question handling options.  If you can think of any, do please share.

About Michael Brown Training

I'm a business skills trainer, facilitator and coach. I've been helping people to learn for 16 years, working all around the world on topics such as Negotiation, Conflict Handling, Sales, Leadership, Consulting and Personal Effectiveness. I'm an ENFP, constantly looking for new and inspiring things to do. I love my job for its variety and the stimulation I get from it, and spend most of my time seeing how far we can go with the subjects we work on in the training room. I've recently started a new venture in making video on how NOT to do things, which you can find at
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2 Responses to THE definitive list of ways to handle questions. (Or is it?)

  1. Will says:

    Mr Trump has a good one. Tell the questioner to shut up then have a large security man remove him from the room and deport him. I guess it reduces the challenge though!


    • That’s a good one Will! Yes indeed, I’d love to see that in a Boardroom! That tops the chart in terms of the assertiveness required to pull it off. And not always practical as it does in fact require a security guard on your side.


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