numero rivista e pagine: HSR Proceedings in Intensive Care and Cardiovascular Anesthesia 2010; 2(3): 233-234
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When a question becomes a nightmare: surviving the most difficult part of your presentation

Authors: M. John*1

Professor of Applied English, Faculty of Medicine, UniversitÓ Vita-Salute San Raffaele Milan, Italy

Corresponding author: * Corresponding author:
Prof. Michael John
UniversitÓ Vita-Salute San Raffaele, Milan, Italy
Via Olgettina, 48 - 20132 Milan, Italy

E-mail: michael.john@hsr.it

Many presenters, even those who have been speaking in public for years, consider question time to be the trickiest and most difficult moment of their talk. You, the presenter, will have prepared your slides carefully and you should also have carried out endless, scrupulous rehearsals in order to deliver your data in an interesting and entertaining manner. However, you can’t control your audience and you never really know what questions they might ask.
Well, this is not exactly true as a good presenter will generally be able to predict the main questions that will be asked. Indeed, a very good presenter will anticipate the audience’s main queries and give the answers during the talk itself, thus avoiding time wasting during the question-and-answer (Q+A) session.
So, why panic? Non-native English speakers are, as a rule, not terrified of the questions, however complex and difficult they might be, but of the questioners! Or, maybe I should say, they are afraid of not being able to understand the questioners’ English. This can be embarrassing, and asking someone to endlessly repeat a question is not at all good style. Maybe you can get around the problem by behaving like a politician and re-formulating the question so that in the end you answer the question you wanted to be asked.
However, we all know that the Q+A session provides you, the presenter, with some important feedback. To begin with, from their questions you realise what the audience has or has not understood. A vibrant Q+A session means contact and interaction, whereas a limp one can cause serious harm to your talk. Remember that the Q+A session is still a part of your performance and you will be judged on how you deal with questions and not merely on your data and the content of your slides. Answers have to be concise, precise, well articulated, convincing and, hopefully, correct. When facing the Q+A session, bear the following points in mind:



  • Leave nothing to chance: be prepared for any possible question
  • Always be positive and honest with the audience
  • Remember to answer all questions, even those you might have ‘on hold’
  • Always listen to the complete question
  • Make sure the whole audience has heard the question, maybe by repeating it yourself
  • Keep eye contact with the questioner while answering, but also involve the rest of the audience so as to avoid a ‘private conversation’
  • Remember: there are NO stupid questions



Let’s now have a closer look at some useful phrases that will help you manage a positive Q+A session.


1. Stimulating the audience for questions
   What questions do you have?
I’ll be happy to answer your questions.
Are there any more questions?

2. Thanking the questioner
   Thanks for bringing this up.
You have just raised a very important point.
Thank you for this interesting question.

3. Agreeing with the questioner
   You are exactly right!
I totally agree with you.
That’s quite true!

4. Disagreeing with the questioner
   I would question this assertion…
I take a different view…
I feel you have not fully understood…

5. Doubts
   That remains to be seen…
We do not have sufficient data at present…
This is still under discussion…

6. Answering multiple questions
   The answer to your first question is…
Now, let’s move on to your next question…
Let me answer your final question first…

7. You have no answer to the question
   I can’t honestly answer this question off the top of my head…
I would like to put this question off until later…
Your question is outside the scope of my presentation. Maybe we can discuss it during the coffee break.

Oh, just one last thing. Everyone appreciates honesty.
If you really do not know the answer to a question, then never go beating around the bush to try and pull off some kind of magic trick in order to impress your audience. They will be far more impressed if you simply say, ‘I’m sorry, but I don’t know the answer to that one.
I’ll get back to you (via e-mail) when I have sufficient data’. Now that is really impressive!


'This is the seventh of a series of articles on this topic. Send any questions to michael.john@hsr.it who will answer them as part of this column'