Deal with the unexpected

Topic 7

Deal with the unexpected

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Imagine the following two scenarios.

Scenario 1

You've done everything to deliver an effective presentation. When you get to the venue, you find out that the projector is not working. What do you do?

Scenario 2

You are in the room and ready to present. The projector is working, you've got your nerves under control, and you make a great start. Then, someone asks you a question that perplexes you. What do you do?

Both of these scenarios are examples of the unexpected. In one scenario, you are let down by factors that are beyond your control; in the other, you get distracted by a surprise question.

How do you handle such situations?

This article covers ways to handle these two scenarios and the importance of rehearsing as a technique for managing the unexpected.

Preparing for questions during your presentation

Being questioned is an inevitable part of delivering a presentation. In fact, questions usually mean that your audience is interested! So, how can you tackle your audience's questions?

Just as you need to structure your presentation to make it effective, you also need to use a structured approach to respond to questions.

Check these tactic's to understand how you can respond to questions.

Plan for possible questions in advance

  • Rehearse answering possible questions in advance. You probably know where your material is confusing or controversial. Think of as many questions as possible about those areas, and work out answers in advance. If you have prepared well and analyzed your audience, you should be able to anticipate the types of questions they might have.
  • Also, collaborate with the stakeholders who requested this presentation to ensure that you have the right information to deal with off-the-cuff questions. This protects you and your stakeholders and makes you more confident while presenting.

Answer the question briefly and clearly

  • Avoid introducing entirely new topics as they'll derail your discussion. But it's fine to add rich details or additional facts to help the audience understand your answer. Reserve complex answers for email or for an offline discussion unless your audience needs an immediate response.
  • In case you don't know the answer, avoid guessing. Be honest and tell your questioner that you don't know the answer. Offer to get back to the questioner with the answer.

State the question that was just asked

  • Avoid giving the impression that you are "tolerating" the question. Speak in a manner that welcomes questions. Repeat the question so that everyone can hear it, and the questioner can determine whether you have understood the question correctly. Ask for clarification if you don't understand the question.

Restate the question

  • Restate the question to ensure that you are on track, and to help your audience remember both the question and the answer—especially when the response is elaborate.

Handling audience questions during a presentation

What do you think?

Stefan is preparing for his presentation, and he's unsure about how he should handle questions he might receive from his audience during the presentation. What advice would you give to him?

A. Ask the audience what they want to do.
B. Let the audience ask questions when they feel like it.
C. Announce up front how question will be handled.
D. Put a question-and-answer (Q&A) segment at the end.

Check out the correct answer -

Option C, Announce up front how questions will be handled, is the best answer. Stefan should announce up front how questions will be handled. As a presenter, you can decide how to handle Q&A. Just let your audience know in advance.

Strategies to help you manage Q&A sessions

To be energized by your nervousness, you first need to be at ease with it. You can do this by applying some simple techniques to handle Q&As.

Include only relevant information in the presentation

  • Avoid adding too much information in your presentation. Hold back details that might not interest your audience. However, if they ask for details, you can share relevant information.

State a frequently asked question and answer it

  • Use this strategy when you don't get questions from the audience. This primes the audience to ask questions.
  • You can also refer to a particular point in your presentation—one that's likely to encourage a response—and ask your audience what they think about it.

Respond politely to any question

  • Be polite with the questioner even if the question is disorganized and rambling. Do not allow an off-topic statement or question to throw off your presentation.
  • You can handle this situation by thanking the questioner, suggesting the correct alternative, and checking with the audience for other questions.

Take questions offline if you're unsure

  • Avoid responding to questions for which you don't have answers. Tell the questioner that you'll address the question offline, and respond to it later.
  • If several members of the audience are interested in the answer, arrange for a short back-of-the-hall meeting or a conference call to cover this material.

When should you have Q&A?

You've reviewed techniques you can use to handle Q&A sessions, but when is it appropriate to conduct one?

Many presentations tend to end with Q&A. Sometimes, these sessions can present surprises to the presenter. A question from an audience member could derail your presentation. Given that people tend to remember information that they hear last, avoid leaving Q&A to the end. You don't want the audience to remember the questions asked or answers given. Ideally, you want them to remember the main message of your presentation or you might want to leave them with a call to action or something similar.

You can ensure this in a number of ways. For example, you could offer Q&A breaks throughout the presentation. This method will help you clarify doubts, while providing the much-needed break that you and your audience need. Even if you want to leave a little time for Q&A at the end, that's fine. Just remember to provide your closing comments after the Q&A to avoid ending on a vague or weak note.

Tips for wrapping up your presentation

Here are some steps you can take when you wrap up your presentation. They will enable you to not only stay connected with your audience, but also allow the audience members to stay connected with each other and to be more social.

Make sure you have the last word!

  • Send follow-up materials.
  • Offer opportunities to join a new or existing social media forum to discuss the presentation.
  • Send a follow-up questionnaire asking for ideas, suggestions for improvement, and queries.
  • Provide the audience a way to give you further feedback by asking for their thoughts.
  • Share your social media details, if required, to extend your message and influence.

You now know how to deal with Q&A and how to close out your presentations effectively. But what do you do when the projector doesn’t work or the lights go out?

Handling factors that are beyond your control

What do you think?

You are presenting in an engaging manner when, suddenly, the power fails. The projector and the microphone you are using have shut down; however, there's enough natural light coming in through the windows to provide some illumination.

What will you do? What are your options to continue presenting?

The first thing you need to do in a situation like this is to stay calm. A good idea is to identify things that could possibly go wrong while you are making your presentation and prepare fallback plans in advance, should they occur.

Here are some options for continuing your presenting after the unexpected happens:

  • Smile and remain calm.
  • Use your printed notes to guide you.
  • Move closer to the audience.
  • Ask your audience to gather around to better hear you.
  • Increase interaction with the audience.

What can go wrong during a presentation?

You can overcome some unexpected problems with minimal impact if you prepare for them in advance. These are just some technical things that can go wrong. Can you think of others?

  • Projector or online software malfunction
  • Laptop not connecting to the projector or the internet
  • Flip chart or slide deck missing or damaged
  • Microphone or headset missing or malfunctioning
  • Laptop battery dead or no power source
  • Power failure

How can you prepare for the unexpected?

Here are some ways you can prepare so that, should the unexpected happen, you can continue with your presentation to your live audience:

  • Keep a backup copy of the presentation deck handy.
  • Contact the facility ahead of time to find out what's available in the room so you know what to expect.
  • Arrive and set up early to deal with surprises.
  • Test any piece of equipment or technology, ahead of time, to ensure it's in good working order.
  • Do a rehearsal (a "dry run") with sound, lights, and the presentation deck that you will use.

Rehearsing as a technique for managing the unexpected

Rehearsing is a great technique to help manage unknowns. Rehearsing helps you deliver an effective presentation because it forces you to identify and work on the areas you need to improve—before you're in front of your audience.

You can "walk through" the presentation in your mind, but rehearsing helps you get comfortable with every aspect of your presentation including the content, your body language, and the emotions you want to convey while delivering.


Make note of the time it takes to deliver your content and the places where you stumble, get lost, or get confused. Check if you have used transitions to ensure your content flow is smooth and logical. Rehearse for the Q&A section by planning for possible questions and practice how to conduct this session.

Body language

Rehearse to ensure that your body language supports the message you are trying to get across, which makes a more powerful impact than the words you say.

You can do this by planning ways to speak and move in a controlled but lively manner, varying your tone and tempo, and maintaining good posture, enthusiasm, and eye contact.


Figure out the appropriate emotion to go with your content and body language and rehearse it. You can practice this by sharing vivid descriptions and exciting ideas, and letting your facial expressions and voice reflect your feelings.

Remember that emotion frequently gets lost in workplace or business presentations. If there is no emotion, there is no caring and nothing to remember.

How can you be a successful presenter?

You have learned different techniques to present effectively. But none of these techniques will help you succeed unless you radiate interest, confidence, and expertise.

Which of the following characteristics of a successful presenter do you think you have? Which ones do you need to work on? As a presenter, are you:

  • Passionate
  • Engaging
  • Confident
  • Credible
  • Organized
  • An expert

Remember that you're the one who prepared and rehearsed your presentation and you're the expert on its content. Your audience wants to hear what you have to say. So you're entitled to be sure of yourself and share your passion for the subject. That's what it takes to be a great presenter!

Activity: Revisit the introductory recording you created

Now that you've completed the course topic, revisit the introductory recording you created.

  • Listen to your recording and think about what you learned in this course.
  • Consider recording yourself again to compare the two recordings

Key learning points in this topic

Use these four tactics to help you prepare for and answer the audience's questions with consideration and thought:

  • Plan for possible questions in advance.
  • Answer the question briefly and clearly.
  • State the question that was just asked.
  • Restate the question.

Use these strategies to help you manage a question-and-answer session:

  • Include only relevant information in the presentation.
  • State a frequently asked question and answer it.
  • Respond politely to any question.
  • Take questions offline if you're unsure.

Unexpected situations do occur while presenting, but you can manage some of them by being prepared. Identify the steps you can take and the elements you can control—leading up to a presentation and while presenting—to avoid such surprises.

Rehearsing helps ensure you deliver an effective presentation

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