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:
- Patterns of Everyday Conversation
- Many conversations follow identifiable patterns. Recognizing those patterns, and preparing yourself
to deal with them, can keep you out of trouble and make you more effective and influential.
- Interviewing the Willing: Tactics
- When we need information from each other, even when the source is willing, we sometimes fail to expose
critical facts. Here are some tactics for eliciting information from the willing.
- Bemused Detachment
- Much of the difficulty between people at work is avoidable if only we can find ways to slow down our
responses to each other. When we hurry, we react without thinking. Here's a suggestion for increasing
comity by slowing down.
- Four Overlooked Email Risks: II
- Email exchanges are notorious for exposing groups to battles that would never occur in face-to-face
conversation. But email has other limitations, less-often discussed, that make managing dialog very
difficult. Here's Part II of an exploration of some of those risks.
- When You Feel Attacked
- Verbal attacks might be upsetting, but in creative conflicts they're usually permissible if related
to substantive matters. When verbal attacks are personal, they can be unfair and illegitimate. The ability
to recenter yourself quickly is invaluable.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
- And on October 19: Bullying by Proxy: I
- The form of workplace bullying perhaps most often observed involves a bully and a target. Other forms are less obvious. One of these, bullying by proxy, is especially difficult to control, because it so easily evades most anti-bullying policies. Available here and by RSS on October 19.
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