When you don’t understand the questions after your presentation

By 12 March 2018 Video lessons 6 Comments
When you don’t understand the questions after your presentation

Hey there, and welcome to Speak English with Christina, where you’ll have fun becoming fluent in American English. I’m your English coach Christina and today, we’re going to talk about an uncomfortable situation that we’ve probably all experienced. The questions after your presentation.

Watch this episode now!

After all, you can prepare and practice your presentation, and you can even anticipate the questions that you might hear at the end, but when someone stands up to ask you a question, you can’t control their accent, how fast they speak, or how clear their question is.

So today, you’ll learn how to keep looking professional and not be destabilized when you don’t understand the question. Let’s go!

URAE Blog Promo - Aug. 2018


Imagine, you’re at the end of your conference presentation. You did pretty good! But now it’s time for the questions and answers, the part that you can’t control. A big American stands up, takes the microphone, and asks you a question…

First, if it’s difficult to understand Americans when they talk fast, be sure to get my American Accent Survival Kit. It’ll help you better understand your American colleagues when they speak fast, like when they ask you questions.

Technique #1: Ask for repetition

This seems basic, but often, we feel like we must understand everything the first time. Let me share a secret with you. This can happen to native speakers too.

Maybe the person asking the question wasn’t clear. Maybe their accent is hard for you to understand. Maybe they had a long introduction to their question and you’re not sure what the question is exactly.

All of these have happened to me, with other native English speakers!

So don’t panic, it’s not a problem. Just ask for repetition. Here are some expressions:
“Sorry, would you mind repeating your question. I think I missed a detail there.”
“Sorry, could you say that again please?”
“I’m not sure I understood your question. Could you just repeat it please?” “

But what if after that you still don’t understand? You run away and hide in the restroom. Or rather, you wish you could run and hide, but you can’t.

Technique #2: Reformulate the question

Reformulating to check you understood is one of the best techniques! It gives you time to think of what to say, and it lets you formulate the question in your own words. Because you may not always understand what the other guy says, but you always understand what you say. At least I hope so….
Of course, to reformulate, you need to understand at least part of the question. If you understood something, anything, introduce your reformulation with, “Just so I understand, your question is… Am I correct?”

Or an alternative version. “If I understood correctly, you want to know … Is that right?”

Technique #3: Discuss it over coffee

This technique is especially good when you’re not sure if you understood or not, and you don’t want to risk giving an answer that is totally off subject. Just invite the person to come talk to you about it at the break.

Again, this is something that we native speakers do all the time, and it can lead to some very interesting networking opportunities that you don’t get in a short Q & A session.
So just say “I’m not sure I can answer your question immediately, but let’s talk about it at the break. Come and see me.”

Finish like a pro

And here’s a tip to end like a pro! After the last question, summarize the key message of your talk and thank your audience. You’ll avoid the boring “No more questions? OK, thanks.”

Try something like: “So no more questions? OK,  then I hope that you come away with an idea of how important it will be for us to coordinate our research for better, quicker results. Thank you very much.”

It’s basically a closing statement that reinforces your message and leaves your audience with a little “nugget” to think about.

And here’s my closing statement for this episode: Remember, you don’t have to understand the question the first time they ask. Not understanding happens to everyone, even native speakers. So don’t automatically think the problem is comes from you because English is not your language. Use these techniques and you’ll look confident even in the Q&A session. Thank you.

Of course, watch the episode to practice saying these expressions with me, to be sure you sound clear and natural!

Now, what about you?

What do you do when you don’t understand a question at the end of your presentation in English?

Share your tips with us in the comments, so we can learn even more techniques!

And to better understand Americans’ accent when they ask questions quickly, be sure to get my American Accent Survival Kit.

You’ll start to better understand Americans when they speak fast, thanks to a full comprehension and pronunciation lesson, plus a worksheet to test your comprehension.

Thanks for watching Speak English with Christina, and I’ll see you next time!

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