answering questions in a presentation meeting


This article is part of a series on effective meetings between Japanese and non-Japanese.


A common feature of meetings is the presentation. And in a western-style meeting, if you give a presentation you can be sure that you will be asked questions.

Responding to questions skillfully is important in order to maintain a good image, both for yourself and for the content you are presenting. Yet this can be easier said than done, since questions can come out of left field. I’d like to suggest some good ways of dealing with common difficult questions you might be asked when giving a presentation in a meeting.

If you are unable to answer because you lack the information, you can say:

  • “I can answer only part of your question because that data was not included in the study.”
  • “This question is not something I can answer in full at this time. What I can tell you is…”
  • “I’m sorry I am unable to answer your question at this time. It’s a relevant question but I do not have that information. I will check into it and follow up with you later.”

In all three examples, the response is honest and straightforward, rather than being evasive. If partial information can be given, or if you can provide information later, that should be mentioned. While it’s ok to be apologetic, don’t overdo it – even the best-prepared presenter is sometimes stumped by a question so it’s nothing to be embarrassed about.

If you are asked an overly emotional question, you can say:

  • “I can tell you are upset about this subject. However, I’m not sure this is the best forum to address your concerns.”
  • “I understand that you are very concerned about this matter. However, rather than discussing that here, I suggest that you talk about it privately with your manager.”
  • “Clearly this is something you feel strongly about. I agree that it’s an important issue, and I’m glad you brought it up.”

In all three of these examples, the feelings of the person who is asking the question are recognized. This validation helps the person to feel “heard” and also helps remove tension that may be felt by the other attendees as a result of being exposed to the questioner’s emotional tone.

If one person asks too many questions and is in danger of dominating the discussion, you can say:

  • “Thank you for your informed questions. I appreciate your interest in the topic, but I would like to make sure that everyone has a chance to speak.”
  • “I’ll take one more question from you and then I would like to take questions from some others also.”
  • “Since we have limited time during this meeting, perhaps it would be better if the two of us discussed this in detail afterward.”

If one person succeeds in dominating the question and answer session, it can be unfair to the other participants. So it’s important to do something if one person is asking too many questions. These phrases all make the situation clear, while still being polite.

Half the battle of answering questions well is to remain unruffled. No matter how shrill the tone of the questioner, resist the temptation to lose your cool. Meeting participants may not remember the exact content of what you said, but they will be sure to remember your tone of voice and overall demeanor.


For more on how to make your cross-cultural meetings effective, get a copy of our free bilingual ebook here.


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