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:
- Deliver the Headline First
- When we deliver news at work — status, events, personnel changes, whatever — we sometimes
frame it in a story line format. We start at the beginning and we gradually work up to the point. That
might be the right way to deliver good news, but for everything else, especially bad news, deliver the
headline first, and then offer the details.
- If Only I Had Known: II
- Ever had one of those forehead-slapping moments when someone explained something, or you suddenly realized
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- On Badly Written Email
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- When the Answer Isn't the Point: II
- Sometimes, when we ask questions, we're more interested in eliciting behavior from the person questioned,
rather than answers. Here's Part II of a set of techniques questioners use when the answer to the question
wasn't the point of asking.
- High Falutin' Goofy Talk: II
- Speech and writing at work are sometimes little more than high falutin' goofy talk, filled with puff
phrases of unknown meaning and pretentious, tired images. Here's Part II of a collection of phrases
and images to avoid.
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- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
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