Don’t React - Repeat!!!
For the insecure speaker, each new question presents the threat of a partial or complete mental shutdown. Therefore, the most important reason for repeating the question is that, dynamically, it gives you time to recover from the shock of the unexpected question. When you absorb the brunt of a question, by repeating it, you create a buffer against the impulse to react immediately with an answer that you might regret. Repeating the question gives you the opportunity to recover your poise and avoid firing off a thoughtless response.
Just imagine if someone suddenly pushed you and you lost your footing. You could not properly respond to the push as long as you were off balance. Similarly, in the Q&A, a question, especially a hostile one, is experienced as a violent assault to your psyche. When you repeat the question, you regain your psychological footing and can respond from a position of balance. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of developing the habit of repeating the question. It sounds like a simple procedure, but the benefits are profound. There are several ways to repeat a question.
Question: How can you say that global warming is our most immediate environmental crisis, when destruction of the rain forest presents such a hazard for global equilibrium?
Suggestions for repeating the question:
“A question has been raised about the high priority that we give to global warming.”“The question is: How can I say that global warming is our most immediate environmental crisis?”“Global warming as a priority.”“A question about priorities.”“Rain forests.”
Even a brief response, as in the last example, will help you resist the impulse to react rather than give a thoughtful answer. This is important if you wish to project likability, maintaining your image of leadership with a friendly, kind, and mature presence.
Repeating the question should become habitual behavior. If you do not cultivate this habit, it will be too late to answer effectively when a difficult, confrontational, or unexpected question suddenly appears.
Questions from Hell
Preparing properly for the Q&A can turn a walk in a mine field into an invigorating jog in a park. After you have finished working on your talk, list five to ten questions (especially the most difficult ones) that could possibly be asked; questions that might make you uncomfortable.
Include questions such as:
“What question may prove embarrassing to you?”“What question do you know you do not have the answer to?”“What question refers to your weakest point?”“What question will bring up a past error or omission?”
Now write out short simple answers to each one. Concentrate on the questions that do not have good answers, like “Why did you lost the XYZ account?” When trying to answer these questions, your anxiety may prevent you from coming up with a good response. What to do?
Ask for Help
Call a colleague, your friend, ask your wife...what about that smart sister-in-law of yours - say, “How would you answer this question?” Chances are that since they have no anxiety or investment here, someone will come up with a spin (creative interpretation, or angle) - a new way of looking at the question - that sounds reasonable. What you need is an answer you can live with. Such as “Have you ever looked at this from a historical perspective? In 1933 that market was... Then in 1961... but then in 1987... And now...” Or “Well, you know XYZ has had six different agencies working on that account in the last eight years...”
Remember you do not need a great answer. Still, you want to be prepared; you want to have an answer that will make you look and feel like a reasonably intelligent person.
When you get the answer from your friend or colleague, be sure to write it down. Make your answers short and clear, and then go to the next question. Finally, list your brief but satisfactory responses and rehearse them along with your presentation. Later, when that killer question comes up, you will be able to reply with confidence, thinking “I knew you would ask that question, and I just happen to have the answer.”