Six Things To Do When You’re Stumped By A Question

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 10, 2014 – 6:02 am

One of the greatest fears public speakers have is being confronted by a question they don’t know the answer to.

Admittedly, there are times when not knowing an answer can make a presenter look bad. If you’re a political candidate who can’t answer a question about your own economic plan, for example, you’re going to receive negative media coverage. But in the vast majority of cases, not knowing an answer is okay—if you handle it well.

This post will offer you six ways to handle a question that stumps you.

 

Man Clueless or Perplexed About Something

1. Pause

Letting a few seconds elapse between a question and your response may feel like an eternity to you—but it doesn’t to the audience. Pausing to think also conveys to the audience that you’re taking their questions seriously, not offering canned answers.

2. Punt

If you’re temporarily unable to think of an answer, you can tell the questioner that you’d like to think about the question for a few minutes and that you’ll come back to them later (“That’s an important issue, and I’d like to think about it for a few minutes before responding.”).

3. Ask Them To Elaborate

Ask questioners to elaborate upon their main point. Oftentimes, people become more specific when they restate their question, which makes it easier for you to understand and respond.

4. Turn To The Audience

Don’t be afraid to use your audience as a resource. If stumped, you can ask the audience to share their knowledge and experience with the questioner (“I know we have some people in the audience who have dealt with that issue before. How have you handled it?”).

5. Tell Them What You Know

Sometimes, knowing a specific answer isn’t as important as providing a general response. In those cases, it’s okay to tell the questioner what you do know, not what you don’t. As an example, if you work for an office supply company and someone asks what percentage of your sales last year were for recycled paper, you might say, “I don’t know the specific number, but what I can tell you is that recycled paper sales continue to grow steadily and we’ve given more shelf space to the product due to increased consumer demand.” You might pair that response with the final tip below.

6. Use These Seven Words

This final point is a critical one that should permanently eradicate most of your fears about being stumped. If you don’t know an answer, just say these seven words: “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.” Then, follow up as promised. If you have a website, blog, or social media account, you can even tell your audience that you’ll post the answer within 48 hours for anyone who’s interested. That seven-word sentence is an especially powerful resource for speakers with perfectionist tendencies, since it reminds them that they’re allowed to be—and should be—human in front of their audiences.

Like our blog? Please help spread the word! Share buttons are below. Thank you!


Tags: , ,
Posted in Presentation Training | Please Comment »

Seven Rules Of Engagement For Managing Q&A (Part Two)

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 9, 2014 – 6:02 am

In yesterday’s post, you learned the first four rules of engagement for managing the all-important Q&A period. In today’s post, you’ll learn three more.

5. Keep Your Answers Brief

You’ve worked hard during your presentation to remain focused on your big shiny object and choose your words with precision. Apply that same discipline to the audience Q&A, and avoid the far-too-common problem of speakers who offer six-minute rambles where 30-second answers would suffice.

Long answers chill the room. Audience members are quick to detect the pattern of a speaker who offers seemingly endless answers—and their questions quickly dry up when they realize further questions would subject them to another interminable monologue.

Keep your answers short. Aim for one minute or less. If you’re generally successful at keeping your answers succinct, the audience will forgive an occasional extended response.

Answering Audience Questions African American Man iStockPhoto PPT

 

6. Draw Out Your Audience

When speakers ask their audience for questions, they often see a collection of blank stares facing back at them. That moment is understandably difficult for many presenters—two seconds of quiet feels like an eternity—so they conclude that the audience has nothing to say and end the session after just a few seconds of silence.

As a professional presenter, I’ve encountered audiences that are quieter than others. But almost all of them can be drawn out—if you create a climate that encourages interaction.

Let’s say you begin by asking, “What questions or thoughts do you have about my proposal?” No one responds. Here are a few things you could try next:

Wait: People detest a vacuum. Long silences are uncomfortable. If you simply stand confidently and wait, someone in the audience will usually speak up.

Ask the Audience a Question: If no one speaks up after several seconds of silence, you can ask the audience a question. (“During my presentation, I mentioned one possible approach to raise more money from donors by selling licensed merchandise. What advantages or disadvantages do you see with that approach?”) If no one responds, you can call on a few people.

Prompt the First Question: To ease the audience in, you can bring up and answer a question that you’re often asked about your topic—or a question that you had to contemplate when developing your presentation.

End the Session: Gracefully thank your audience, deliver your second close, and invite the audience to approach you with any thoughts or questions after the session ends. Don’t assume that the audience’s lack of feedback was a sign of failure (and don’t convey, through your words or body language, that you thought it was). You may have been so effective in delivering your presentation that they understood it thoroughly and are processing your information. To help determine the root cause of your audience’s silence, analyze why you didn’t receive input by reflecting upon your presentation, speaking to the meeting planner or a few participants to discuss what worked and what didn’t, and evaluating the results of your post-presentation survey.

Woman gesturing with her hand while a business team is watching her

 

7. Assign Roles For Team Presentations

If you’re presenting as part of a team, decide in advance which team members will answer questions about which topics. For example, you might assign questions about a project’s timeline to Susan, the project’s cost to Rick, and the project’s architectural design to Raheem. Doing so helps prevent the awkwardness of deciding in front of the audience who should answer which questions.

Also, resist the urge to add something to an answer given by a co-presenter if they offered a sufficient response. Too often, team members compete for “talk time” by unnecessarily adding their thoughts to another team member’s answer, which can slow down the Q&A period.

Thanks for reading! If you learned anything in this post, we’d appreciate it if you shared our work.


Tags: , ,
Posted in Presentation Training | Please Comment »

Seven Rules Of Engagement For Managing Q&A (Part One)

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 8, 2014 – 6:02 am

Too often, speakers spend weeks carefully crafting their presentations but fail to prepare adequately for their audience’s questions. As a result, they deliver a successful presentation only to become derailed during the question and answer interaction.

One bad response can be all it takes for speakers to diminish—or even reverse—the good impression they established during their presentation. This week, we’ll focus on the question and answer period to make sure you take advantage of those critical minutes.

1. Set Time Expectations

If your presentation doesn’t have a firm ending time, tell the audience for how long you intend to take questions. If the audience knows you’ll wrap up the session in 15 minutes, they’re less likely to be distracted by the phone call they have to make, their biological needs (“When can I go to the bathroom already?), or their growing hunger.

If you don’t tell them, they’ll become uneasy, as they don’t know whether they’ll be stuck in the room with you for 10 minutes or an hour. You can eliminate this step if your session is time limited—the audience will understand that a 50-minute conference breakout session will predictably end at 50 minutes past the hour.

Audience Questions Hands Raised

 

2. Invite Audience Participation Using The Right Phrases

When most speakers open the floor to questions, they ask, “Does anyone have a question?” That question often fails to elicit a response. One reason is that whereas only a few people in your audience may have a question, many more likely have thoughts, opinions, or comments about the material you presented. You can encourage more participation if you use those words when soliciting feedback from your audience instead of—or alongside—the word “question.”

Ken Molay, president of the firm Webinar Success, says that another problem with the “Does anyone have a question” approach is that it doesn’t place personal responsibility onto any single member of the audience to act. As better alternatives, he advises clients to change that question to “Do you have a question?” or “What are your thoughts?” Although those questions can be addressed to the full audience, the use of the pronoun you may prompt a more active response.

An even stronger cue, Molay says, is to give the audience a direct command to take action in a specific way: “Now it’s your turn to guide the discussion. What should I clarify or go into more detail on?”

Audience Raising Hands

 

3. Repeat the Question or Comment

There’s usually no need to repeat (or summarize) an audience member’s comment or question when speaking to smaller groups in smaller rooms, or in larger groups when questioners use a microphone.

But repeating an audience member’s question is imperative when: The audience size or room is large enough that some people might not hear the question; the person asking the question is soft-spoken; or the session is being recorded and questioners do not use a microphone.

You don’t have to repeat back each question in its entirety, but make sure you include the heart of the question in your summarized version.

Businessman holding a microphone while looking at a business team with raised arms

 

4. Avoid Negative Language

Neurophysiologist Rick Hanson writes that, “Your body generally reacts more intensely to negative stimuli than to equally strong positive ones…Negative stimuli produce more neural activity than do equally intense positive ones.” Since negative words or experiences tend to be more memorable than positive ones, it’s best to remove any negative language when restating a question posed by an audience member.

For example, a member of the audience—a person who rents apartments from your management company—might say, “We’ve been complaining about the noise for a year, and you’ve done nothing about it. It’s obvious that all you care about is money.”

When repeating back the comment to the audience, don’t say:

She says that all we care about is money and that we haven’t addressed the noise problem.”

Instead, strip away the negative language when restating the comment:

“I understand that you’re concerned about the noise. Let me tell you what we’ve done to address the noise problem.”

Click here for part two of this post!

 


Tags: , ,
Posted in Presentation Training | Please Comment »

This Week: How To Manage The Audience Q&A

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 7, 2014 – 6:02 am

Due to their spontaneous nature, question and answer exchanges can be more memorable than the presentation itself. Sharp audience questions often add energy to your talk—occasionally even a sense of danger—and audiences tend to be keenly interested in what their fellow seatmates have to say.

Even with its risk of unpredictability, you should view the question and answer exchange as a critical asset for you as a speaker, not as an unwelcome interruption. Questions help reveal what your audience cares about, remains confused by, or continues to resist. They allow you to offer responses that align your content with their concerns, clear up any lingering confusion, and persuade people that your ideas are sensible.

The Q&A period also allows you to demonstrate your competence. Directly answering challenging questions with poise and confidence sends a message to your audience that you’re capable of leading, executing or managing whatever initiative you’ve presented.

Beginning tomorrow, we’ll run three in-depth posts on managing the audience Q&A.

Mature adult man having a public speech.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, you’ll learn seven rules of engagement for managing the Q&A period.

On Thursday, I’ll write about six things to do when you’re stumped by a question. 

On Friday, I’m taking a nap.

In the meantime, I’ve included a few links below from previous posts on this topic:

Five Times to Take Questions From Your Audience

What To Do When Your Audience Doesn’t Ask Questions

Stop Asking Your Audiences Dumb Questions!

Not Now. I’ll Answer Your Question Later.

Answering Questions From an Angry Audience


Tags:
Posted in Presentation Training | Please Comment »

A Key Lesson From David Letterman’s Retirement Speech

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 4, 2014 – 11:05 am

As you’ve heard by now, talk show legend David Letterman announced his retirement last night. What struck me about his retirement announcement was that he chose to frame it within an anecdote.

Letterman told a lengthy story about spotting a rare bird while fishing with his son. He didn’t know what breed of bird he had spotted, so he spent his next day at work trying to figure it out.

When he got home and his wife asked him how his day was, he told her what he had learned about the bird. When his wife asked who was on the show that night, Letterman shrugged. He couldn’t remember.

It was at that moment, it seems, that he realized he had lost the passion to host his show. When the “How was work?” question led to a bird tale instead of conversation about the show itself, he knew it was time hang it up. 

When making his announcement, Letterman could have simply said, “I’ve lost my passion for hosting,” or “It’s time.” Instead, he chose to frame that message within a story. As a result, his retirement announcement was a lot more colorful, memorable, personal, and understandable.

David Letterman Retirement

I’ve written about this topic before—about looking for “smaller” stories to help make a larger point. It’s a great device, one you should consider for your own presentations.

Here’s a post I’ve written about telling small stories.

And here’s a wonderful example of a TED Talk that accomplishes that beautifully. 

 

 

 


Tags: ,
Posted in Presentation Training | Please Comment »

Body Language: Why You Should Avoid Othello’s Error

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 3, 2014 – 6:02 am

In Shakespeare’s Othello, Othello is tricked into believing that his wife, Desdemona, cheated on him with his Lieutenant. When he confronts Desdemona, she weeps—a sign, Othello concludes, of her guilt. In a rage, Othello murders her, only to learn shortly thereafter that she hadn’t committed adultery after all. 

Othello made the mistake of assuming that he understood the source of Desdemona’s anguish. He assumed that his wife’s sobs when confronted were a sign of her guilt; he didn’t understand that her grief was rooted not in guilt, but in her knowledge that there was no way to convince her husband of her innocence.

That tragic mistake—what psychologist Paul Ekman dubbed “Othello’s Error”—teaches us that just because someone exhibits an emotion doesn’t mean we understand the root cause. “Emotional signals don’t tell us what brought them forth,” Ekman writes in Emotions Revealed.

 

The Death of Desdemona by Eugène Ferdinand Victor Delacroix

The Death of Desdemona by Eugène Ferdinand Victor Delacroix

 

As an example, let’s say you’re about to deliver a talk and you’re feeling nervous about the proposal you have to present. You believe that a few people in the room actively oppose your idea, so you’ve prepared rebuttal arguments just to be safe.

During your presentation, you notice a man in the front row—a key decision-maker—who’s furrowing his brow and crossing his arms. He looks unhappy with your proposal, confirming your worst fears.

At the end of your talk, he approaches you to thank you for your talk and ask you a question about how he can follow up with you. “I’m surprised you’re interested,” you say. “I was convinced that you didn’t like my proposal because you looked skeptical.” “Nah,” he says. “My wife tells me I look that way when I’m thinking. I thought your proposal made sense all along.”

That type of scenario happens all the time. And it happens, in part, because we’re conditioned to see that which we expect. According to Dr. Ekman:

“Our emotional state, our attitudes, our expectations, what we want to believe, even what we don’t want to believe can all bias how we interpret an expression or more specifically what we think caused the emotion shown by the expression.”

Emotions Revealed Paul Ekman Book Cover

In other words, if we’re nervous about an audience when presenting, we’re more likely to interpret a man’s “thinking” face as his “disgusted” face. We’re more likely to assume that his seemingly disinterested expression means that we’ve failed to persuade him. We’ve committed Othello’s Error.

Othello’s Error doesn’t mean you should stop trying to read your audiences. You can often glean important clues about their moods and attitudes by remaining attentive to nonverbal cues. But it does suggest that before solidifying any assumption that they’re against you, you should ask a clarifying question instead (“It looks like a lot of people are thinking hard about this proposal. May I ask what you’re thinking about or what questions you might have?”). 

Click here to join our mailing list, and we’ll send you the 25 most important public speaking tips for free.

 


Tags: , , ,
Posted in Presentation Training | Please Comment »

When Things Go Wrong: Slow Down To Speed Up

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 27, 2014 – 6:02 am

Things go wrong during presentations. There’s no way to entirely prevent that from happening. What you can control is your reaction to what goes wrong—and people who react well during tough moments take advantage of an unexpected opportunity to impress their audiences.

Let’s say your PowerPoint projector suddenly goes dead. Many speakers would immediately get nervous, scramble frantically to reconnect the wires, and apologize to their audiences for the glitch (“I’m so sorry, I tested this before I began. This is so embarrassing!”).

Instead, the best thing to do during those moments is to slow down. Everyone in the room knows the projector just went dead. Calmly—and deliberately—turn to the projector to check the connections. Calmly check the power supply. Calmly press the on-off switch. If none of those things work, calmly look up and ask someone to get help—or, even better, tell the audience you’ll try to fix the equipment during the next break but that you’re going to keep going.

No apologies, no excuses. Just a professional speaker reacting to an unexpected technical failure with an impressive display of control.

Man Zen Yoga Rock PPT iStock Photo

The same strategy applies if you misplace a page in your notes. Stop talking, slowly flip through your notes to locate the correct page, and calmly look up and resume your talk when you find it.

The same strategy applies if your microphone cuts in and out. Calmly smile and request a new microphone or, for smaller audiences, go without one.

I call this “slowing down to speed up” because I’ve regularly observed that speakers who slow down during challenging moments solve their challenges more quickly. (Although I came up with that phrase independently, many others have used that phrase in similar contexts.) 

Finally, consider selling unexpected circumstances as a virtue. For example, most speakers are mortified when only six people show up to their breakout room that was set for one hundred. Instead, sell it as a positive to the six people who showed up: “I’m so glad this is a small group, because we’ll have an opportunity to really talk and help solve one another’s challenges. How about you all move up to the front, I’ll come join you, and we’ll just talk?”

Remember: When things go wrong, project a quiet calm. Slow down to speed up.

Don’t stop learning! Attend one of our highly reviewed media and presentation training workshops. Click here to see our upcoming sessions.


Tags: ,
Posted in Presentation Training | 2 Comments »

Everyone Agrees: Ditch The PowerPoint! They’re Wrong.

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 23, 2014 – 9:15 pm

National Public Radio recently ran a piece with an attention-grabbing headline:

Physicists, Generals And CEOs Agree: Ditch The PowerPoint

Like similar stories before it, the argument went as follows: PowerPoint prevents two-way engagement, PowerPoint makes the speaker go on autopilot, PowerPoint prevents people from reducing their points to their critical core.

As one Rutgers professor said, “The main advantage of forgoing PowerPoint is that it forces both the speaker and the listener to pay attention.”

But the story—and the people quoted in it—are blaming the wrong problem. PowerPoint isn’t the problem. It’s a tool that’s only as good—or as bad—as its users. The problem is the misuse of PowerPoint by far too many speakers.

Pendulum Ball

Don’t buy into articles that suggest PowerPoint is all good or all bad. It’s true that the pendulum swung too far in the direction of ubiquitous and poorly planned PowerPoint presentations, and it’s good that it’s swinging back in the opposite direction. But these articles are suggesting a pendulum swing to an opposite—but still problematic—extreme.

I’m struck in particular by generals removing PowerPoint from their rhetorical arsenal. Shouldn’t generals, more than most of the rest of us, value keeping as many potential tools in their toolkits as possible and knowing exactly which tools to deploy, and when, and how?

Here’s what we know: PowerPoint can help people make longer-lasting, deeper, and more meaningful connections when used sparingly and strategically. Some presentations may never need PowerPoint. Some may be stronger without it. But that’s not always the case.

An Example

One client wanted to make a crucial point to his employees about the increasing cost of electronic storage for his firm. “This is how much data we’re storing today,” he said, as a giant black circle filled the screen. “Three years ago,” he continued, “this is how much we were storing.” As he delivered that line, he clicked again and an almost imperceptible white circle appeared in one corner, atop the giant black circle. The audience gasped. 

Sure, he could have said that verbally instead, perhaps by drawing a clever analogy. But I watched the reaction in the room as he delivered that slide, and it’s difficult for me to believe that anything would have been more effective.

He used PowerPoint sparingly and strategically. So should you. Ask yourself whether a visual representation of your spoken point would do more to enhance your audience’s understanding. If it would, use one. If it wouldn’t, ditch it. 

Don’t stop learning! Attend one of our highly reviewed media and presentation training workshops. Click here to see our upcoming sessions.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


Tags: , ,
Posted in PowerPoint | Please Comment »

Media and Presentation Training Workshops

Attend one of our fast-moving and content-rich workshops! You'll receive personalized feedback in a small-group setting that helps you become a more effective speaker.


Next workshop: August 26-27, 2014

VIEW FULL SCHEDULE

Join our email list to get our 21 most essential media training tips

An Amazon #1 PR Bestseller: The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need To Know Before Your Next Interview. Learn more.

  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

    Brad Phillips

    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

    Christina Mozaffari is the Senior Writer for the Mr. Media Training Blog. She is the Washington, D.C. vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

    Brad Phillips

    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

    Christina tweets at @PMRChristina.

  • Comments or Tips?

  • Media Requests

    To book Brad Phillips for a media interview, please e-mail Contact@MrMediaTraining.com
  • In The News

    Click here to see media coverage of Brad Phillips and the Mr. Media Training Blog.
  • Media Training

    Click here for more information about our customized media training workshops. To book a media training workshop, e-mail Info@PhillipsMediaRelations.com