What to say & not say

The last two issues of  ‘Communicate Confidently!’ discussed the ‘why’ and ‘when’ of managing the audience question process. Today, we move on to the ‘how’ and what to say and not say when responding to those questions. So, learn from these Best Practices for Success:

  • Look directly at the questioner and listen intently for the concept or main idea behind the question. This helps you deal with the actual question, not the first few words. Wait patiently until the person finishes.
  •  Don’t jump in with your answer. Make sure you know what the question is all about. If you’re not sure, ask for clarification.
  •  Don’t thank them for the question or indicate, “That’s a good question.” These contrived attempts at courtesy don’t accomplish anything except taking time away from your answers and can become annoyingly repetitive.
  •  Do break visually with the person and look at someone else. This avoids the appearance of a one-to-one dialogue and suggests to the audience that the question and your answer have value for all of them.
  •  Don’t say, “The question is…” Simply repeat it if it’s short or simple or begin the answer with the content of the question. For example, if the question is ‘What’s the ROI of this project?’, begin your answer with ‘The ROI of this project is … ‘.
  •  With longer or more complex questions, rephrase them. You can also gently take some of the ‘zing’ out of ‘zinger’ questions, but don’t try to turn a negative question into a positive one.
  • Pause for a moment to collect your thoughts. Harness the power of silence – it helps you look like you’re thinking.
  • Answer as briefly as possible. If the questioner wants more details, let him or her ask for more. Since you anticipated the FAQs and prepared concise answers for them, you’ll be ready for that follow up or drill down question.
  •  Don’t ask, “Did I answer your question?” Why imply possible incompetence? If your answer didn’t satisfy the questioner, it’s up to him or her to say so and re-frame the question.
  • If you don’t know the answer, say so, but indicate you’ll get back to the questioner with it. As alternatives to saying ‘I don’t know … ’, consider ‘I’m not sure …’, ‘I don’t have that information with me … ‘ or ‘I don’t remember … ‘. These phrases are less likely to take away from your credibility.
  •  If you’re taking questions at or near the end, manage your time and give the audience a heads up that there’s time for one or two more. This courteous tactic can encourage the audience to rethink whether they want to ask another question.

The Q&A section of your Workplace Presenter Tool Kit should be full of useful strategies and tactics by now. You have options for when to take questions and what to say – and not say – in answering them. As audience-centric presenters, you anticipated 90% of the questions 90% of the audience will ask 90% of the time and planned accordingly. You’re ready to survive and thrive the Q&A. Any questions?

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