Here is the situation: You are up in front of an audience, and you are on a roll! The participants are just beginning to warm up so you want to be extra careful to respond to questions appropriately. A hand goes up, and a rush of excitement courses through your body. You call out the person’s name and hear your question. The problem is this; the question pertains to something that you fully plan to cover in detail… later! Not only that – once you enter that topic, you run the risk of traveling down a rabbit hole that will most likely confuse your audience. You also know that it will be extremely difficult to get back to your original topic without eliciting more questions. The stage is set. What should you do?
- Avoid the question, and you might send out signals that discourage your most precious ally: participation.
- Answer the question, and you run the risk of throwing the presentation into an illogical, confusing tailspin.
So, what’s the solution? Park it. In a remote section of your room set up a flipchart pad, whiteboard, or separate piece of paper with the words “Parking Lot” on it. Every time a participant has a question that would be better answered later, park it. Using this approach would sound something like this:
Participant: “I was wondering if you could tell us how to handle a situation that required the computer and the administrator.”
Presenter: “That is an excellent question. I’ll be covering the computer’s role in policy handling in about 30 minutes and I think it might be a good idea to revisit and answer the question then. But it’s an important question, so let me write it down over here in the “Parking Lot” so we do not forget to answer it at that time.”
I suppose you could just tell the participants that you will answer the question at the appropriate time, but often when the appropriate time comes, all we remember is that someone had a question relating to this topic. By casually delaying your response, you run the risk of damaging your credibility and leaving participants questioning whether you actually know the answer to his or her question. When you write it down, you give credibility to the participant who asked it, and assurances that you will not forget to answer it.
The responsibility becomes yours to keep an eye on the “Parking Lot” and answer the questions at the appropriate time. You might even want to check the answers off as you address them, which will alert the participants that you are actively answering their questions. Either way, you’ll be back in control, and in position to work with questions – no matter when they’re asked!