The Top 10 Myths About Handling
By Jerry Weissman
told a compelling story, you've designed dazzling PowerPoint slides,
you've delivered your message confidently, and now you open the
floor to questions. Unless you manage this part of your presentation
effectively, all of your other efforts will go up in smoke. You must
stand tall in the line of fire and learn how to handle tough
about how to handle Q & A abounds, ranging from media training to mock
practice sessions. Unfortunately, along the way, a number of
counterproductive myths have evolved. Here are the truths behind the
top 10 myths and their effective solutions.
10. Make a list of potential tough questions and
prepare an answer for each. Preparation is a good idea, but
this approach is misguided. People in public don’t ask questions as
written in advance. Most audiences ask questions in a convoluted or
rambling manner. Furthermore, this preparatory approach produces a
long complex list that forces the presenter into a mental scramble
to match the question as asked and the answer as written. The
scramble inevitably produces misfiring, often leading to the wrong
answer. Solution: Prepare a short list of key issues, and an
equally short position statement for each: Bullets rather than
sentences; concepts rather than script.
If someone asks a question about a subject you’ve covered, refer
back to the slide. This is a bad idea because it implies
that your questioner is suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s
disease. Moreover, you will appear awkward as you search for the
earlier slide. Solution: State your answer … without the
slide … as if you never covered it, and do it succinctly. Due to the
rapid-fire dynamics of Q&A sessions, you must never look back. Keep
8. Compliment your questioner by saying, “That was a good
question,” or “I’m glad you asked that.” Will you then
insult the next questioner by saying, “That was a bad question,” or
“I’m not at all happy you asked that.”? Solution: Make no
value judgments or characterizations of any question. Simply
respond to the central issue in the question.
7. You don’t have to answer irrelevant questions. There is
no such thing as an irrelevant question. You might consider it
irrelevant, but the questioner doesn’t, nor does the audience, which
is inclined to side with one of their own. Group psychology is at
work in Q&A sessions: One versus many. If you disdain or duck any
question, you will alienate your questioner and your entire
audience. Solution: If they ask it, you will answer it.
Use every question as an opportunity to deliver your message.
This is only a partial myth. You can and should use every
opportunity to deliver your own message, but only after you
have earned the right to do so by first providing an answer to the
question you were asked. Politicians characteristically perpetuate
this myth by ignoring the question and launching into their own
message. Politicians are expected to do this. You cannot.
Solution: Provide an answer for every question; only then can
you swing for the seats.
5. If you don’t know the answer, shift to a different
subject. Wrong! Nobody expects you to be a walking
encyclopedia of minutiae. Solution: Say you don’t know, but
promise to get the answer to your questioner later. Be proactive.
Ask for a business card. Of course, if the question is about a
subject that is central to your story, you cannot plead ignorance or
you will appear evasive. In this case, be sure you are prepared, as
in the solution for Myth 10.
If you get a multiple question you must answer all the questions.
If you try this, you might forget one question and then, as far too
many presenter, far too often, do, say, “What was your other
question?” This sends the message that you are suffering from
early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Solution: Pick only one
question, respond, and then turn to the questioner and say, “You had
another question.” They will either re-state their question or say,
“That’s okay, you answered it.” Either way, you are off the hook.
Handle one question at a time.
Repeat the question so that everyone can hear it. If the
question is challenging, such as “Why is your product so expensive?”
and you repeat it by saying, “Why is our product so expensive?” you
would then be admitting that your product is expensive. Solution:
Strip out the value judgment by paraphrasing, “How did we arrive at
the price?” If the question is “What makes you think you can survive
in a crowded market dominated by larger players?” strip out the
value judgment, “How do we compete?”
If a question addresses a confidential matter, say, “I’m not at
liberty to answer,” or “If I told you, I’d have to kill you.”
Either option sounds evasive. Solution: Attribute the
confidentiality to a position outside your purview, e.g., legal,
security, or corporate policy. For example, “Our legal counsel has
advised us to withhold comment,” or “Our company policy is to not
make forward-looking statements.”
1. Answer the question you want to answer.
is the most pervasive of all the myths. You must answer the question
you were asked. Solution: The same as for Myths 6 and 7: If
they ask it, you will answer it, even if you are guilty as charged.
However, once you have answered, you can shift gears to the positive
and state your message.
instance, take the question above, “What makes you think you can
survive in a crowded market dominated by larger players?” You
effective response can be, “You’re right; we are a small player in a
crowded market dominated by larger players. But because we are a
pure play, we can focus all our attention on our target sector and,
because we are small, we are more agile and can rapidly shift to
meet changes in the market. Therefore, I am confident that we can
not only compete, but win.”
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