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Creating Executive Presence - 9 Tips for Thinking on Your Feet (Oct 08)

By Dianna Booher When presenting information in a classroom setting, listeners have come to expect time for Q&A--it is their chance to get you to "meet the press," so to speak, particularly on controversial points. But in addition to meeting others' expectations, Q&A periods benefit you, the presenter. Questions provide feedback on how your presentation was received and give you a chance to clear up any misunderstandings. The only problem? Keeping the discussion on track when things go south. The following tips may help you keep your poise during a heated Q&A. Never Announce a Certain Amount of Time or a Specific Number of Questions To do so limits your flexibility and creates dangers along the way. If you announce that you will take questions for half an hour and you get only two questions, the audience walks away with the impression that you gave a disappointing presentation that did not generate the expected interest. If you say that you will take another three questions and the third question is a hostile one, you may be forced to end on a negative note from which it will be difficult to recover. Stay flexible simply by making a general statement that you will take a few questions before you wrap up. Then, if there are none or only a few, you are safe to go directly into your prepared close. And if you get a challenging question or if a negative issue surfaces, you can prolong the discussion until you can find an opportunity to bridge to a more positive closing note. Pause to Think Before You Answer Even if your response comes quickly to mind, pause before rushing ahead with it. With frequently asked questions in particular, it is tempting to give a canned answer. With a little forethought, however, you can customize your answer, making it even more responsive to the asker. To buy additional thinking time, remove or put on your eyeglasses, take a sip of water, stride to another spot in the room before turning to face the group, or tilt your head and rub your chin, as if reflecting on the question. You also can buy thinking time by commenting on the question itself: "Hmmm. That's a tough one." "That's a very perceptive question." "I anticipated someone asking that, and I don't know if you'll agree with my answer, but. . . ." By responding, "I need to think about that one a moment," and then repeating the question aloud--"Let's see, what would I recommend if . . . ?"--you interject a pause that renews attention and curiosity about the serious reflection required. And of course, you may opt not to answer at all: "I'm not at liberty to answer that now." "That piece of the puzzle is still in the works." "Please let me get back to you on that later." Direct Your Answers to the Entire Audience Maintain eye contact with the asker as you begin your response, and then, after a few seconds, glance away and sweep the entire group. If necessary, start specific and then make your comments generic enough for the entire group's interests. Remember, you are not obligated to satisfy every questioner completely; some will insist on asking several follow-up questions. Others may persist in presenting their viewpoints even after you have given your answer. To prevent being locked into a dialogue with one member of your audience, answer briefly, break eye contact with the asker, and then turn to the entire group and ask for the next question.

Answer to Reinforce Your Points Responses such as, "I'm glad you brought up that issue because it gives me a chance to elaborate on . . . ," are a way to align listeners' questions with points you really want to emphasize. You also can respond in a way that broadens or narrows the scope of a question's focus. "The issue that most of the region will be concerned with is X; therefore, let me answer in this broader context." Or "Yes, that's the big-picture problem, but let me bring it a little closer to home with the more specific issue of Y." So go in either direction to reinforce your key learning point or your key message in an executive briefing. Take Care Not to Respond with More Than They Want to Know Maybe most important of all: When you field a question, be brief. If you take 10 minutes to answer the first few questions, some participants may fear antagonizing less interested participants by asking one that could lengthen your presentation by another half hour. Make Your Body Language, Voice, and Movement Support Rather Than Sabotage Your Message Take charge with your posture, body language, eye contact, vocal tone, and fresh comments. Do not be tentative. Project an attitude of anticipation, eagerness, and confidence. Communicate to the audience that you have come to deliver value--before you ever open your mouth. If You Do Not Know, Say So Nothing makes people believe what you do know like admitting what you do not know. Never be afraid to say simply, "I don't know. I'll have to check on that and get back to you." And then do so. Identify and Practice Appropriate Techniques for Responding with Poise to the Ten Most Difficult Question Types To say you can't prepare for questions is to court disaster. Although you may never anticipate an off-thewall question about your current learning management system, you can prepare and practice the techniques to handle the most difficult question types well: the hypothetical, the forced two-option, the long-winded, the limited interest, the "dumb," the off-the-record, the show-off, the challenging/skeptical, the multiple, the hostile. Conclude the Q&A Period with a Summary It is a good idea to prepare two closings: one that ends your prepared comments and leads into the Q&A period and one that wraps up the entire presentation. If you are lucky, you may get a final question that is a great lead-in to your prepared closing. If so, use it as a smooth segue to your summary. But don't count on it. In any case, never let your presentation limp to a close by following the last question with, "Well, if there are no more questions, that's about all, folks." Instead, firmly conclude with your prepared remarks--that pithy quote, rhetorical question, clever anecdote, or summary that will challenge your audience to action. About the author Dianna Booher works with organizations to increase their productivity and effectiveness through better oral, written, interpersonal, and cross-functional communication. A keynote speaker and prolific author of more than 40 books, Dianna's latest titles include The Voice of Authority, Speak with Confidence, Communicate with Confidence, and Booher's Rules of Business Grammar (all by McGraw-Hill). ©2008 Dianna Booher

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