Thursday, October 2, 2008

Public Speaking: The Dos and Don'ts of Q & A

As we gear up for more and more US presidential debates, we'll have the opportunity to see how the candidates handle themselves under the pressure of challenging questions. Handling "Question & Answer" sessions takes grace and tact, as well as a lot of quick thinking.

To make the most of your Q & A session and survive unscathed DO:

1. Listen carefully
It's very tempting to start formulating your answer to a question while the questioner is still in the middle of asking you something. Be careful not to get so caught up in your own thinking that you don't listen to full question. Don't jump ahead and make assumptions about the question. Give your full attention to the questioner.

2. Thank the person for the question
It's common courtesy to thank your questioner for their question. This can be done directly by saying, "Thank you for your question..." or indirectly: "I'm so glad you asked this question..."

3. Paraphrase the question
Paraphrasing the question accomplishes three things: it gives you the chance to be sure that you've understood the question correctly, if some people didn't hear the question when it was asked, it includes them in the discussion, and finally, it gives you time to think about your answer while you paraphrase the question.

4. Be short and sweet
This is especially true if you're sitting on a Q & A panel. It's always annoying when one speaker dominates all the time and the audience can't hear the views of the other panel members. Keep your answers simple and to the point.

5. Offer to continue the discussion later
If you know that a question deserves a much more elaborate answer than you have the time, energy or patience to answer on stage, don't hesitate to offer to speak to the person one-one after the session. This is also a useful tactic if you need more time to formulate an appropriate answer.

6. Be respectful
No matter how stupid the question, never show that you think that! Be careful of your non-verbal cues as well such as smiling or rolling your eyes.

7. Be prepared
Always be prepared for Q & A. Play devil's advocate with yourself and find as many holes in your arguments as you can. Think about what the worst questions would be that someone could ask and figure out how you'll handle them. It will really pay off to be prepared; you'll maintain your composure and look and sound confident.

If you don't want to lose the respect of your audience and hurt your reputation, DON'T:

1. Make up an answer or bluff your way through it
2. Insult the questioner
3. Blatantly avoid the question
4. Show incompetence by just saying, "I don't know," and moving on
5. Get into an argument or become hostile with the questioner

By following these Dos and Don'ts you should be well on your way to making a positive impression in a Q & A session.

Have you ever been stuck, confused, embarrassed or truly entertained by a question? Share it here on the comments board!

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