How to Answer Hard Questions in a Q & A

“Oh, crap” “What do I do? I don`t know the answer to this one?” Have you ever felt this way before? I know, I have been there many times. When I was new guy in the training group this happen too many times. But I got smart did the research and found a good way to handle the problem. It would not damage my credibility while at the same time being honest with yourself. However, once that was solved, there was another problem.

The problem was this. Even if I built enough time for Q&A for each section, I would run over time. BTW, This was not a pacing or time management problem. The problem was how I handled the Q&A itself. There a way to effectively deal with this and the previous problem of answer questions you don`t know in one tidy framework.

But, first let`s suppose the following: You are doing a presentation on “Power Point Design.”  And suppose you get the following questions. What do you do?

  • “What is the best font to use?”
  • “How do you use the eyedropper tool in PowerPoint 2013?”
  • “How do I change the default font-family in Keynote?”

 Just think for a minute. Write down each of your responses. Do not try to write a fake answer. Write one as you would with the current knowledge that you have now. We will come back to this.

Now, anytime you get questions you need to do three things These are:

  1. Paraphrase the question
  2. Handle the question
  3. Conclude the question

Today, I just want to focus on Handling the question. The other two are also important for managing the Q & A, but let`s take things one item at a time.

*Three different types of questions:

  1. In-scope questions that you know the answer
  2. In-scope questions that you don`t know the answer
  3. Out of scope questions 

In Scope vs. Out of Scope

What are in scope questions?

In scope questions are questions related to material you covered in your presentation.  This would material in slides, material in the handouts, material in the words that you speak. So, if you are doing a presentation on the designs of slides of Microsoft Power, any question about Apple`s Keynote is out of scope. Any questions about how to make sound work across multiple power point slides could be in-scope if you plan to talk about sound or multimedia as apart of designing slides. However, if you have no interest in dealing with that topic, then it is out of scope.

What do you do with out of scope questions?

Let`s look at this way. Suppose you were here to listen about to create amazing Power Point slides.  You have never used a Mac or Keynote in your life. You have no plans to use a Mac or Keynote.  Would you as a member of the audience want to listen to answer of how to change the default-family in Keynote? Probably not. Thus, a presenter should not during the normal Q &A session answer that question directly.

So, what should a presenter do?

The presenter should not say: “That is a good question, but since we are covering PowerPoint today, I will not answer irrelevant questions.” That is only going to cause the person to get upset and possible cause trouble later.

What you could do is say: “Thank you for that question.  So, you want to know about how to font-families in Keynote, right? Please go ahead and write that question down. (You do the same, so you don`t forget). I will get back to you at (some time after the session is over). Any else is also invited to stick around a listen to the answer if you want to.”

What this does is post pone the questions. The questioner now know that you care about his or her question and you will answer it at a specific time later. Also, the rest of the audience knows that you care as you limiting the questions to only material that is relevant to them. If you don`t know the answer you have also bought some time to research the answer.

So, for any out of scope question you post pone the answer. This does include any out of scope questions that you do know the answer too. In fact, many experienced presenter fall into the trap of answering out of scope questions. This can cause the Q & A time to run over, effect other sessions and bore the rest of the audience. For your audience`s sake post pone the out of scope questions to after everything is over. Your audience will be glad you did.

In-scope Question Types

In scope questions come in two variety that I have previously mentioned. One you know the answer to and the ones you don`t.  The ones you know the answer are easy to answer. The one you don`t know the answer are rare. Since they are in-scope you should have studied the material. You should know it forwards and backwards. But there are times when you forget. That happens to everyone.

So, what do you do when you don`t know the answer to a question you should know?

Let`s suppose the person asked, “How do you use the eyedropper tool in PowerPoint 2013?”

If you don`t know, you could say: “I don`t know.” That is 100% honest. It can be ok if you are young and new. Even so, the audience will only forgive you a few times. So, use this sparingly.

Instead say: “I have a few thoughts about using the eyedropper tool. You are using Power Point 2013, right? So, let`s talk (time) and over this topic. If anyone else is interested, please stick around and I will go over this.” Saying that you “have a few thoughts” is not a lie. You probably have a few like “There is an eyedropper tool in Power point? (Yes, there is)” and “Just where the heck is that is it?” (Google it, there are a lot of videos and articles just on this.)  

Also, a pinpoint question like this can be hard to side step. Broader questions are easier.  But in any case, to avoid looking like an amateur, be clear in communicating to the audience what the scope of your presentation is.  Be sure to practice so you do know all aspects of your material. If you need to, have some notes ready for things you tend to forget. Also be sure to making answering in scope questions much sooner than out of scope ones.

Questions About Material Not Covered Yet

There is one final case that I have not covered yet.  That is in-scope questions about material that you have not covered yet.  If you are doing a long presentation or training with multiple Q & A chances, there are going to be times when someone asks a question that is in scope, but about not covered yet. If you answer the question, you are just going to repeat yourself. So, what do you do?

So, suppose the questioner asks the same question “How do you use the eyedropper tool in PowerPoint 2013?”, but this time you do know the answer, but you going to cover it later. What would you say?

  Please try not say “I will answer this later.” This is too vague. What you could say is: “So, you want to how to sue the eyedropper tool? Great. I am going cover that after the break in the part about special tools in Power Point.” This way the questioner knows exactly when his or her question will be answered.


The next time you are going to deal with a Q & A session, please plan ahead. Be clear in what will be in scope and be out of scope in your presentation. Say this at the beginning. Also, be clear with your how you will handle questions that are out of scope. Stick to that policy. Even if you do know the answers of out scope questions post pone them. This will greatly reduce the chances that you be asked questions that you cannot answer, it will keep everyone on topic, and increase overall satisfaction. If you do not know the answer to a question, say that you have “a few thoughts” and that you will address it later. Be specific on the time. This will help maintain your credibility.

Doing this without giving it a way that you know or don`t know the answer with your body language takes time. Please practice this with a friend or a partner until it becomes natural.

If you have any questions or think of a better way, please let me know I would love to hear from you.  If you want to get more articles like this in your mailbox please subscribe!