Audience Management

When you're the one delivering a presentation, you get to decide how and when the questions happen.

Addressing the Audience

If large crowds make you nervous, you've got a few options on how to look out during your presentation:

  • Ask the AV team to turn down the house lights if the stage is lit separately. This will make it harder to see the crowd. I generally bring the house lights up because I like to see people and find it difficult to look into spot lights when presenting.
  • See “everyone” in the audience and be smug at how efficient you are by having a conversation about your favorite topic with all these people at once. (This is what I do.)
  • See “the audience” as one person and look at no one. (Look for internet references on having "soft eyes" which aren't focused on any one thing.)
  • Look at the back row only where you can’t identify faces.
  • See only one or two friendly faces in the 2nd or 3rd row.

During the presentation:

  • Keep your expectations low. People are tired, overwhelmed and possibly hungover or jetlagged. People will sleep during your presentation, people will email during your presentation. You don’t need to maintain eye contact with everyone. You don’t need to tolerate people talking during your presentation. If you find anything distracting: stop and address it politely but firmly. It's your show and you've worked hard to do what you're doing. ("I'm so sorry, but I find it very difficult to focus on what I need to say when others are talking. It makes it unclear to me if my presentation isn't making sense, or if something else is happening. If you do have a question or something is confusing, please raise your hand to let me know. Otherwise, could you please take conversations outside? Thank you.")

Time for Questions

Let people know at the beginning of the presentation when you would like to field their questions.

  • At the end of the presentation. ("I'd like to keep this presentation as tight as possible so that we can have more time for questions at the end. Please write down your questions during the presentation and ask them at the end.")
  • During the presentation at specific points. ("I will take questions after I've explained the theory of how this fits together and at the end of the presentation.")
  • During the presentation at any time. ("If you have questions at any time, please raise your hand and wave it wildly.")

Dealing with Questions

Reasons for questions include:

  • confusion over the material,
  • expanding on the material (taking the concept further),
  • tying the material to their own circumstances.

When a question is asked:

  • Remind questioners to use the floor mic so their question is recorded.
  • Repeat the question and rephrase it in a generic way if possible to make it relevant to the whole audience.
  • Now decide if the answer is relevant to the core message of your presentation. If the answer is not relevant, feel free to defer answering.

How to Avoid Answering a Question

Do not feel obliged to answer all questions.

Do not panic if you don’t know the answer.

  • “This is an excellent question, but the answer could get pretty specific and long winded. Can you please email it to me and we can follow-up later?”
  • “I have no idea. Next question?”
  • “Great question. Does anyone else know?”
  • “Great question. Can you set up a Birds of A Feather session and throw a shout out on Twitter? I'd love to talk about this more along with anyone else who's interested. Can you quickly stand up so that others can come find you too and help arrange a time?”