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This question already has an answer here:

To begin with, we have a diverse team from different background. They speak a different language than what I speak, so often they communicate and I don't understand or communicate at all.

Problem: On a certain event I had a 2 hour time slot to demo a certain tool and within a certain scope. To realize the potential of the tool - I added some technicality to the scope - However I would ultimately fall back to the scope, I deemed the technical background necessary.

One colleague - one with 0 technical background cut me mid-way and asked several vague questions that did not make any sense. All I wanted was to demo a sample and fallback to my scope at the end of the demo to consolidate the common understanding of the tool. And in my favor, I was well within my designated time, and given a chance to properly finish the presentation, I would have enough time to answer any and every question. My manager was present at the presentation - he tried to help the situation a bit, but in any case, I lost the time and my properly built tools that were in exact scope were never demoed. For me, it ended bitter as I was quite passionate about what I had done, only my colleague spoilt it with out of turn vague questions.

Point in fact that I never or minimally spoke for the entire day - the only time I spoke was my presentation and all I wanted was to do it right. That was all the time I had.

How should I handle this situation? To be more precise, I want to bring this upto my manager. The colleague in question is actually quite meddling and I know at least one employee is already leaving for this colleagues behavior. My manager is a super kind super nice man - I don't know how to hint/update him that people should deserve their time at least when in a presentation for which they have worked passionately? Or is it standard industry practice?

marked as duplicate by Dukeling, David K, JazzmanJim, gnat, mxyzplk May 30 at 0:32

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  • Because the basic points made are valid whatever the language... Then you seem to be confusing two separate items into one, ie the presentation and second the fact they speak a second (third or fourth) language... – Solar Mike May 28 at 15:38
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    I don't understand how questions asked result in a product not demoed, given you say you would have had the time for any and every question asked. How was it you didn't get the chance to finish the presentation, after the questions were asked? – nl-x May 29 at 8:08
  • "They speak a different language than what I speak, so often they communicate and I don't understand" - Are they speaking the language of the country you're in (where you are the foreigner); or are you the native, and they're speaking a foreign language among themselves? – Chris Melville May 29 at 9:30
  • @ChrisMelville I speak English and they speak the native language of the country (they can speak English and pretty fluently at that!) - they call me a team member but are never accommodating to at least hold a single presentation in the whole 2 day rumble in English and then they cut me mid-way. Point-in-fact, I am learning the native language of the country, would it have been so hard for them to at least accommodate me a little? – Jishan May 29 at 9:41
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It's a learned skill to be able to look at a person and say "Please wait until the end to ask that question", or "I'll get to your questions at the end". You need to learn to be assertive and run the show.

Having said that, what to do now? Ask your manager if he has any questions about it. Hint that you know that he may not have heard all he needed to hear since you kept getting interrupted. Ask him if he understood it, and if not, perhaps another presentation might be in order, or if he would champion the idea. At a minimum, maybe he would be able to help manage the coworker next time.

Or, you may need to simply come out and tell your manager you wanted to present more, but this particular coworker didn't give you a chance.

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    Get him talking about it, and tell him that you wish you'd have had time to present more. That will start the discussion and you can express that due to your coworker speaking up you couldn't. I'd be willing to bet your manager is fully aware that your coworker has a strong personality and tends to talk too much. – Keith May 28 at 16:09
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    @JoeStrazzere: Yes, that's one option. However, you may want to encourage questions in general, while still limiting those that go too far. But that's arguably an advanced skill :-). – sleske May 29 at 11:39
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    Playing devil's advocate if that person needs that information to understand the talk then by holding him off to the end you're effectively wasting 2 hours of his life... – Liath May 29 at 12:49
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    @Liath Not covering all of the necessary information also effectively wastes 2 hours of everybody else in the meeting's life. You can't consider the needs of only one person when a meeting, by definition, involves others. This happens so often that there's a name for these people: meeting derailers. – user71659 May 29 at 18:11
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    @user71659, something that is even more common is someone who asks a question that everyone else is thinking but are too afraid to ask lest they embarrass themselves. All this is beside the point, however, if the OP keeps it simple, makes his point, and saves the complicated stuff for the end. – teego1967 May 29 at 19:24
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If you're going to give a talk to an audience which has a mixed or unknown composition, you must structure it so that everyone gets something out of it. 2 hours is a very long time. That is more than most people can absorb unless they already know the subject matter intimately.

The fact that you got what you called "vague nonsense" questions is both a good and bad sign. It is good because it means that someone was engaged and brave-enough to ask a question. It is bad because it was a signal to you that your talk was being misunderstood (that's your fault).

It would have been better to communicate the purpose of the demo first, then perform the demo, then outline an explanation of how it works, and finally go into detail with background for people who are interested.

A demo is best structured as follows:

  1. Motivation/Purpose
  2. Demo
  3. Basic explanation of how it works
  4. Discussion of implications or future work
  5. Time for detailed questions and/or background

Answer questions as they come. It's OK to defer very detailed questions until later, but simple questions and misunderstandings should be cleared immediately. If someone asks a simple question (or a confused one) that means you are not communicating to them. If you don't answer them until the end, it means they will get nothing out of the talk.

  • A very, very prudent approach. Thank you very much for giving me this viewpoint. I will keep this in mind and respect the same. – Jishan May 28 at 16:52
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    @Jishan, I would recommend watching technical demos on youtube. Look at the structure of ones that are very effective and try to use that structure in your talks. You'll find that the best demos don't wait until the end to show the demo, they show it early. – teego1967 May 28 at 16:57
  • I will do that. Thanks. It is a very positive way to handle this problem and learn something in the way... – Jishan May 28 at 17:46
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    "signal to you that your talk was being misunderstood (that's your fault)" - not necessarily. If the person attending the talk is out of their depth (i.e. lacks the prerequisite knowledge that is expected of the audience), then it is their fault. – Jon Bentley May 29 at 16:19
  • It's always much better to get people to comment on what they have seen already :-). I totally second that approach – George M May 29 at 17:30
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Unlike other answers, you absolutely can not wait until the end to answer questions. Not in a two hour presentation. If someone needs a clarification to follow along, and can't get it, you lost that person and they won't get the rest of the presentation.

You need to plan for questions. That means both in timing and in slots for them.

Plan how many questions you expect, then add a bit to be on the safe side, and substract that time from the total. Fit your actual presentation in that resulting time.

Also plan when to answer questions. You can do so immediately, at the end of a section, or after every or every few slides. If you regularily turn to the audience and ask if there are any questions, they will understand that this is the appropriate time to ask. If you push any questions that interrupt you to that point with a friendly "I'll come to that in a moment, just let me complete this slide/section", they will understand that this is the only appropriate time.

If someone dwells on a question that you believe you have answered sufficiently, offer them to come to you afterwards, and remind everyone that for the sake of the rest of the audience (not for your sake!) you will continue now.

While you were excited about the stuff you wanted to demo, the actual purpose of the presentation was to transport knowledge to the audience. If you need to answer questions to do so, then that is very much part of the presentation. Instead of coming to your manager as someone who wants to complain about a co-worker, come to him and ask for his feedback. Was your presentation clear and easy to follow? What can you do to improve information transfer? Only if the manager says that everything was fine on those fronts you can wonder why that guy kept interrupting.

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How should I handle this situation?

The lesson to learn here is that for similar demos/presentations in the future you should politely respond to any such interruptions by saying that you will address any questions at the end (make sure you leave a suitable amount of time in your plan for this). This is totally reasonable - especially since it's not uncommon for questions like this to be suitably addressed during the already planned presentation content, and with extra bonuses in that if it's a trivial vague question that they may well have forgotten about asking it by the end anyway.

To be more precise, I want to bring this upto my manager.

To what end? What can your manager really do beyond suggesting that you implement the above going forward?

My manager is a super kind super nice man

Then do him a solid and don't waste his time with this playground "he spoiled my turn" whining.

I don't know how to hint/update him that people should deserve their time at least when in a presentation

But you had your time - sorry to say it but you chose to use some of your time to answer this person's questions. If I'm understanding the question correctly you still got your 2 hour slot. Your manager can't exactly hop in a nearby time machine and go back and change history. If asking questions mid-presentation was explicitly forbidden they (or you) would have said something at the time so they can't exactly belatedly punish someone in retrospect for something that they were allowed to do just because you want them to.

  • To be honest - I didn't have my time. Yes I had my 2 hours, but thanks to my colleague the team now believes that the tool is probably over-complicated ot maybe my team doesn't even understand the tool at all. – Jishan May 28 at 15:57
  • @Jishan You had a 2 hour time slot. You got two hours. You were unable to effectively deliver your presentation within the two hours, sorry to be blunt here but that's kind of on you. Yes, your colleague sounds annoying but this is a failure of presentation skills. – motosubatsu May 28 at 16:01
  • Maybe you are right. But when we talk about a super complicated software and 30 mns of my time is wasted purely by interruptions and vague comment and follow ups..1.5 hours is very less a time. But now I have learnt. No more upfront questions. – Jishan May 28 at 16:03
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    @Jishan That's a great method :) it heads off 90% of people who even think of asking a question mid-way and of the 10% who miss that most will have no trouble when you gently "remind" them of that. Any repeat offenders in that scenario can be cut off quite abruptly. – motosubatsu May 28 at 16:16
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    The more complex the topic, the more important it is to answer simple questions immediately. If one person asks a very simple or confused question, you can be certain there are others who are just as lost. If you wait until the end of the talk you will have wasted their time. – teego1967 May 28 at 16:41
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State clearly at the start that questions will be taken at the end. And stick to it - as soon as one tries a question, say "please bring that up at the end" and carry on.

  • While this may solve OP's problem, I genuinely believe that questions are an important part of a presentation. If you don't allow any interaction during the presentation, you might just as well show a video and save everyone the hassle of attending in person... – sleske May 29 at 11:43
  • @sleske it's very hard to ask questions at the end if you are not there... Which does seem to be the common point of the answers so far ie keep the questions to the end... And the main point of my answer is to allow the questions, just at the end... – Solar Mike May 29 at 11:44
  • Yes, I was being a bit sarcastic :-). Still, I think deferring all questions to the end will effectively suppress most questions entirely - after a 2h-talk I will have a hard time even remembering my question. But I grant that it's better than being completely derailed. – sleske May 29 at 11:46
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Short answer: You can't. If you plan on talking for two hours, then you cannot put off questions until the end. If you lose someone at the 30-minute mark, you can't make them wait another 60 minutes or more to ask you about something. You have to answer questions as you go.

With the language issue, you must also allow that there will be other misunderstandings during your presentation that you will have to explain. You will have to deal with that in the moment.

With the varied technical backgrounds, allow that you will need to do a deep dive on some subject you thought everyone knew, but many of them don't.

I think you need to remind yourself why you are doing the presentation. Is it an ordeal you just want to get over with, or is it to educate your team? If it is to educate the team (and it should be), then educate the team! You cannot know how well your presentation will be received, so you will have to be flexible while doing it. Plan on answering questions in the moment. Plan on repeating yourself. Plan on explaining concepts that you assume would already be understood.

You may have a two hour window, but I wouldn't plan more than 90 minutes of material. That gives you the time to be flexible and interactive.

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