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How Speakers Handle Questions During Presentations is Just as Important as Delivery, Study Shows

Professor John Daly in the Department of Communication Studies has published new research that explores public speaking and how speakers handle objections and questions after their presentations. 

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AUSTIN, Texas – While researchers and professionals have long known that delivering engaging presentations is key to success in the business world, new research from The University of Texas at Austin shows that the manner in which speakers respond to questions and objections during presentations is just as important.

In a study published in the National Communication Association’s journal, Communication Education, researchers found that how speakers respond to questions and objections affects audiences’ perceptions as much or more than the quality of the delivery. The study, “Handling Questions and Objections Affects Audience Judgments of Speakers,” is authored by John Daly, Liddell Centennial Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at the Moody College of Communication and graduate student Madeline Redlick

The researchers found that audiences’ evaluations of speakers were significantly affected by how well the speaker responded to questions, suggesting that speakers face an interactive requirement when giving presentations to confidently respond to questions and challenges. When they fail to do so, evaluations of speakers become negative.

“Objection handling is an important cue in evaluating speakers,” Daly said.  “The confidence with which people deliver oral messages affects observers’ judgement of those people’s competence. The true measure of speakers’ competency is not only how they present their ideas, but also how well they handle what follows.”

To examine audiences’ perceptions of delivery and objection handling, the researchers showed study participants different video presentations featuring the same speaker.

Participants saw one of two different presentations. The content of each was identical, but they varied in terms of stammering, speech rate, eye contact, excessive use of note cards, awkward pauses, and postural shifts exhibited by the presenter.

Then, participants saw one of two examples of the same speaker responding to identical audience questions. In one, the speaker responded poorly to questions and evaded answers; in the other, the speaker did the opposite.

The results showed that how speakers handled questions and objections had a bigger impact on audiences’ evaluation of a speaker’s effectiveness than the quality of their presentations.

“While avoiding questions after a presentation can have deleterious effects of its own, inviting questions and objections still presents the risk of further damaging perceptions of a speaker’s credibility, if that speaker is not able to respond to those challenges well,” Daly said. “In the typical speaking event nowadays, questions are assumed to be part of the presentation experience. So the next time you prepare a presentation spend more time contemplating how you’d respond to questions and objections that may arise during or after your presentation. How you handle those challenges will affect what listeners think of you. “