Ah, Q&A. The “question and answer” portion of your presentation, where anything can happen!
Instead of dealing with a Q&A hog, let’s say someone in your audience asks you a brilliant question. It’s timely and topical! It’s directly related to your content! At this point, your answer can fall into three categories.
1. Hey, I know all about that!
2. I don’t know, but I can find out.
3. I don’t know.
Each category comes with its own set of challenges. Let’s explore each.
I know all about that! On its face, this category seems easy to answer, but it’s not. In a Q&A, you’ll need to be brief. You must curb any tendency to give a comprehensive, long-winded answer. Being brief can be difficult when you know something thoroughly. Deliver a concise and concrete answer, then move on to the next question.
I don’t know, but I can find out. Category two is a little easier. Your answer can be something like, “I don’t know, but I know I can find out. Give me your contact information, and I can get the answer to you after the presentation.” Move to the next question or closing, then follow up with the questioner when you said you would.
I don’t know. Category three should be the easiest of all. It contains 3 of the 4 short statements that lead to wisdom. You can say one to three of them, as appropriate. Practice saying this out loud, every day.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know. Does anyone else know?”
But why is “I’m sorry. I don’t know. Does anyone else know?” so difficult for so many presenters to say? I suspect it’s because they feel because if they are leading a discussion, they simply MUST know everything about it., or at least appear to.
But remember, you’re only leading the discussion. You’re not monopolizing it. You’re not expected to know everything. And no one likes a know-it-all.
Consider the four statements that lead to wisdom:
“I don’t know” is one of the four statements that leads to wisdom. Practice saying it every day. It can help ease any discomfort you may feel when tempted to pontificate on a subject you know nothing about. Audiences will appreciate your honesty and simplicity. It’s refreshing.
“I need help” is the second statement that leads to wisdom. Ask for help when you need it. “Does anybody else know?” might yield a helpful response from your audience or allies. If no one else answers, you might feel inspired to smile and say, “It looks like I’m not alone in not knowing the answer to your question!”
“I’m sorry” is the third statement that leads to wisdom. You may or may not feel inclined to preface your “I don’t know” with “I’m sorry”. If you’re not sorry, don’t say you are. If you are, do so.
Fittingly, “I was wrong” is the fourth statement that leads to wisdom. And it’s the one statement you won’t have to say during your presentation if you answer difficult questions truthfully and concisely.
Outside of Q&A, practice saying the four statements that lead to wisdom:
I don’t know.
I was wrong.
I need help.
Get comfortable saying these phrases. If you want to be happy and wise, you’ll be saying them a lot in a lifetime! Beyond wisdom, you’ll gain empathy and understanding through regularly saying these phrases.
Good luck on your next Q&A!
For your consideration: I go over responding to difficult questions in more detail in my Crisis Communications course at LinkedIn Learning. It’s under the section: “Developing Statements”.
Perhaps the hardest part of telling a business story is resisting the temptation to finish your story yourself. I call this “The Power of Shhhhh.”
It’s where you stop talking. Be quiet. Let your story and its lessons sink in.
People hate a vacuum, and will often rush to fill it with their own conclusions. When people jump in at the end to tell you what they’ve learned from your story…and then recommend the next steps to take — you’ve told the right story to the right audience, at the right time.
The next time you tell a story, take your moment of silence. Try using the Power of Shhhhh to let your audience finish your story for you.
Being quiet can be a storytelling power move.
Laura Bergells is a professional story finder. She writes, coaches, teaches, and speaks. Check out her online courses at LinkedIn Learning.
If you’re a LinkedIn Premium or Lynda.com member, these courses are free! If you’re not a member, you can either become a member or buy each of these classes à la carte.
Some people feel scared or nervous before they deliver a speech. To gain confidence, they might go somewhere private right before they speak and strike what’s called a power pose.
This is a broad, expansive gesture like putting your arms over your head and looking up. It’s a classic pose of someone who just won!
Someone who’s victorious. A champion!
Or they might stand with their hands on theirs hips while looking up. Just like a superhero! Strong, confident, large and in charge!
And these kinds of expansive poses are a form of warm up exercise. You can gain emotional energy from putting your body into these types of postures that make you feel more powerful.
Huddling and crouching? Those are classic postures we adopt when we feel scared or submissive.
Huddling and crouching poses send a message to your brain to feel afraid. Using broad gestures sends a message to your brain to feel confident.
And while the science on power posing isn’t exactly clear right now, consider this: warm-up exercises have been a part of theater tradition for a long, long time. That’s because the warm up exercises you perform off stage can help you project the emotional energy you want to portray onstage.
Power posing is actual a riff on an old acting technique. It’s a simple but powerful warmup exercise. And it’s one that’s worth trying.
After all, when you’re performing on stage or in front of a camera, you need to put out about 25 percent more energy than you might do in a normal, everyday conversation.
If you’re just being ‘yourself’ on camera — and you don’t project a little more emotional energy that you normally would, you’re probably going to come across as lifeless and flat.
Actors often do warmups before they go on stage.
Professional performers know it’s way easier to come down from an amped up emotional state than it is to try to ramp up to a heightened emotional state.
So if you don’t believe in the science of power posing, why not take a centuries old tip from the world of acting and performance?
Get yourself a ritual. Try some warmups before you hit the stage.
Look at it this way. You have nothing – zero – to lose.
And best of all, you might be delighted by the results you achieve with a few simple warmup exercises before your next speech or presentation. Give them a try. Let me know how power posing works out for you.
Consider these four questions. You’ve seen headlines like these in your social media feeds:
Who suffers more: Alzheimer’s patients or Alzheimer’s caregivers?
What’s more important: presentation content or presentation delivery?
Office work or remote work: which is better for productivity?
Why would anyone need to go to college when they could just take online classes?
Media outlets that depend on advertising dollars often like to post false dilemma questions like these. They do it with the aim of “increasing engagement” or “starting conversations.”
A casual reader or viewer might not even care that deeply about the posed question. But once they’ve responded by picking a side – uh, oh!
They’ve entered a trap.
Once people answer one way or the other, they might feel as if they have to defend their position. Sometimes, they’ll even fight with people who selected the other side of the either-or equation.
You know what happens next. Fights draw crowds.
With one simple either-or question, the media outlet that posted the question used an agitation technique. Deliberately posing a false dilemma question to ‘increase engagement’ is propaganda.
Often, the intent is not to inform or educate. The true aim of the false dilemma question is to agitate, confuse, and/or polarize.
Keep your eye out for these kinds of questions. You’ll see and hear deliberate agitation techniques all the time.
Some polarizing questions are posed innocently, but most are deliberately designed to agitate. They create pointless fights and arguments. They prevent any kind of substantive progress.
Increased engagement? More like “increased agitation”.
And it’s not just media outlets who use this technique to cause fights or draw crowds. Sometimes, you’ll be presented with an either-or question in everyday work or personal situations.
Let’s say you’re presented with a false dilemma question in real life. Unlike social media, you can’t choose to not participate. How can you answer it without helping to create an unstable and contentious environment?
Sometimes, you can’t say nothing. You must respond. If so, you might like to try a classic, 2-step pivoting technique.
For example, let’s say a public speaking student asks me, in front of class:
“For our next class presentation, tell us. What’s more important: content or delivery?”
Since the student is asking an either-or question, I might use a pivot statement.
I might say, “I wouldn’t frame the question that way.”
Then, I say how I would frame it. Then, I answer that question.
And my answer? It’s almost never either-or. It’s almost always both-and.
For example, I might say,
“I wouldn’t frame the question that way. Content and delivery are both important, so you need to work on both. Don’t forget – you need to make a connection with your audience.”
Remember that two step process:
Use the pivot phrase “I wouldn’t frame it that way” to politely reject an either-or, false dilemma scenario;
Proceed with framing a both-and response.
Let’s see how this 2-step technique might work in a TV interview. Pretend a reporter asks a doctor:
“Who suffers more, Alzheimer’s caregivers or Alzheimer’s patients?”
The doctor might recognize the false dilemma from media training and say:
“I wouldn’t frame it that way, since both groups suffer in their own unique ways. Nor should we try to make suffering some sort of competition. Instead, I’d rather use my time here today to address what we can do to ease the suffering of both patients and their caregivers.”
Well, done, doctor!
And now, I’ll give you two brief exercises to try on your own. Now that you know to recognize a false dilemma question when you see one, practice answering this either-or question:
“Which scenario is better for productivity: office work or remote work?”