Answering Questions When Speaking

As part of my coaching, one of the areas we almost always touch on is how to answer questions. In my experience, a large majority of peoplequestions when speaking who can competently share information fall flat on their face when asked a direct question. Most coaches I work with can go for 30 minutes with no major gaffes or goofs, and I’ll ask, “How did that feel to you?” The first word out of their mouth? “Uh, …” Paragraphs of information without a moment’s hesitation, and when asked a (simple) question, their confidence apparently leaks rapidly. Perhaps no area of public speaking can lose credibility as fast as in answering questions (poorly). That’s why it’s so important to have that polished and ready to go. We can never be fully prepared for every question, of course, so it’s important to practice technique as well as content. But here is some low-hanging fruit. 

5 Quick Tips for Answering Questions:

  1. Make up a set of 5 FAQs or MHQ (most hated questions) and after crafting a (good) response practice answering that question with a straight face until you can do it right. Corollary: if you can’t quote your rate with a straight face or flinching or saying “Uh”, do you really think you’re worth it?
  2. Don’t qualify the question. No “That’s a good question,” or “I’m really glad you asked that question.” If there’s emotion involved, connect with that emotion (“It sounds like that’s a frustrating area for you. I can see why you’d be concerned.“)
  3. LOOK at the person who asked the question as you answer it. Not ALL the time, but most of the time. If there’s a part of the question that is direct (e.g. “No.“), then answer that directly to the asker of the question. Qualify and add detail to the entire audience.
  4. Don’t respond until you know what you’re going to say. Avoid the dreaded “Uh, …” as the first word (which, BTW, is overwhelmingly the first word out of the mouths of an MBA student when you ask why you should hire them).
  5. And definitely, don’t ever, ever make up an answer. If you don’t know, then say so (bonus points for making the next words out of your mouth, “but I’ll find out and get back to you.“).

Questions are so important, why leave them to chance? Practice the answers and the answering until you can get it right.

Communication matters. What are YOU saying?

Related Post:  3 Tips for Handling Questions During a Presentation