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Question Asked, Question NOT Answered.

Throughout our business day we communicate by leaving messages, exchanging emails, presenting and fielding questions. It is quite common for people to ask for further information, further clarification or explanation.

Occasionally we are faced with more aggressive or even hostile type questions. The question is, what do you do?

The typical human response to being asked a question is to answer that question. There are in fact other things you can do. For one you can re-frame or re-direct the question. This is a common technique used by politicians.

Play clip about Romney and silver spoon.

In this case Romney quickly dealt with the question without ever defending himself and then he went on to aggressively respond by changing the conversation. Once he’s brought up and held onto his new topic it is more difficult for the questioner to go back to the original question. It can happen but it then shows the questioner to be the aggressor.

Another option is to answer the question YOU want to answer. Often questions are long and convoluted, which gives you the chance to pick the part of the answer you want to respond to. You can quickly address some part of the question asked and then go on to answer the question you think is most important.

Here is an example of President Obama answering a question on the David Letterman show.

In this answer Obama does a number of things well. He starts by ‘disarming’ the potential volatile or uncomfortable topic by injecting humor. This lightens the tone and buys him time to consider where he might go.

The next thing he does is to put very reputable and admired people (xx and Reagan) into the answer which buys him credibility.

Finally he gets to an answer that he wants to leave the audience with, his answer to the question he’d like to answer.

Preparing for a Panel—tips

  1. Develop your own bio that will highlight the areas of your background that will accentuate the points that will be interesting and build credibility with the audience.
  2. Be able to answer the question “briefly tell us about your work/career/area of expertise”
  3. Brainstorm questions you think you may be asked.
  4. Contact the moderator to see if you can get a sense of the direction they plan on taking.
  5. Research your fellow panelists so that you can find your unique position on the panel.
  6. Make a list of 10 questions you think are relevant to the topic and your area of expertise. Prepare answers.
  7. Develop 3 ‘message buckets’. The first will be messages that relate to you, your company, your profession or field. You can develop topics that you are very familiar with and areas that would be advantageous for you to talk about. The second bucket will be facts, statistics, details that you can use in your answers. The third bucket will be specific stories, examples or illustrations that will help you to deliver your messages.
  8. Develop an answer to the question “if there is one thing you want the audience to know…”
  9. Consider your answers from the perspective of the audience, why would they care about what you think or what you’ve done. How can you answer so that you are responding to the audiences’ view of ‘why does this matter to me?
  10. Practice delivering 1-2 minute answers.
  11. Practice, practice, practice. Get together with colleagues and have them ask questions. Find the answers you like and memorize the key elements.

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