As everyone began filing out of the conference room, Allison switched off the projector, dragged her presentation icon into the recycle bin, and began collecting her notes. Geoff lingered in his chair for a bit, and then when everyone had gone, he stood and said, simply, "Grand slam!"
Allison smiled brightly and sat down. "Yeah," she said. "it was!"
"And the best part," Geoff continued, "was how you handled Marketing's questions about the slip."
As Geoff's comments illustrate, how you handle questions — especially hostile questions — can be more important than the presentation. Here are some tips for handling Q&A.
- Resist evaluating questions
- An example of evaluation is starting your reply with, "That's a very good question." Evaluating the question or the questioner can come across as arrogance. Most of the time, people who do this are just stalling for time. If you need time, just look directly at the questioner and say, "Hmmm," while you nod slowly.
- Stay out of the rabbit hole
- Evaluating a question
or a questioner
can seem arrogant
- Some questions are so detailed, off track, or argumentative that almost any genuine response is de-focusing. Better: make a brief comment and then suggest that you'll be willing to talk further off line.
- Let the questioner ask the question
- Don't interrupt to complete a questioner's question. Wait for the question, restate it, and then answer it.
- Make sure you understand
- If you don't understand, ask for an explanation. If you still don't get it, apologize, and offer to take it off line.
- Withhold derision
- Some questions seem ridiculous. Some actually are. Displaying derision is both rude and risky. It can alienate the questioner and others in the audience.
- Stay in bounds
- Know clearly where the boundaries of confidentiality and your expertise are. If asked to step over a boundary, apologize and say, "I really can't say." Most people will understand.
- Don't joke about serious matters
- Making jokes about things people take seriously could hurt or arouse the ire of some members of the audience. Be careful, especially about technical religion, technical dogma, and technical politics.
- Know how to handle spacing out
- You might lose the thread. It happens. When it does, ask the questioner to repeat the question, and this time, listen. Also, consider this a sign of fatigue, and consider halting the Q&A or taking a break.
- Be right
- Since one of your goals is credibility, being wrong is not good. Say only what you know, and nothing more. If you have doubts about what you're about to say, tell the audience about your doubts, or don't say it.
Most important, for the really tense presentations, practice. Have some colleagues ask you tough questions, and work out some good answers. Sometimes, a well-prepared response can be more effective in Q&A than making the same point during prepared remarks. Any questions? Top Next Issue
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More articles on Effective Communication at Work:
- Irrational Self-Interest
- When we try to influence others, especially large groups or entire companies, we sometimes create packages
of incentives and disincentives that are intended to affect behavior. These strategies usually assume
that people make choices on rational grounds. Is this assumption valid?
- Communication Templates: II
- Communication templates are patterns that are so widely used that once identified, nearly everyone recognizes
them. In this Part II we consider some of the more toxic — less innocuous — communication
- On Badly Written Email
- Even those who aren't great writers do occasionally write clearly, just by chance. But there are some
who consistently produce unintelligible email messages. Why does this happen?
- Comfort Zone Discomfort
- The phrase "comfort zone" is a metaphor that can distort how we think about situations in
which we feel comfortable and confident. Here are four examples illustrating how the metaphor distorts
- Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: II
- When we feel the need to interrupt someone who's speaking in a meeting, to offer a view or information,
we would do well to consider (and mitigate) the risk of giving offense. Here are some techniques for
interrupting the speaker in situations not addressed by the meeting's formal process.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 21: Perfectionism and Avoidance
- Avoiding tasks we regard as unpleasant, boring, or intimidating is a pattern known as procrastination. Perfectionism is another pattern. The interplay between the two makes intervention a bit tricky. Available here and by RSS on August 21.
- And on August 28: Playing at Work
- Eight hours a day — usually more — of meetings, phone calls, reading and writing email and text messages, briefing others or being briefed, is enough to drive anyone around the bend. To re-energize, to clarify one's perspective, and to restore creative capacity, play is essential. Play at work, I mean. Available here and by RSS on August 28.
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