In some ways it is very natural to feel fearful at the thought of taking questions – we really can’t be sure what is going to come up, and so we can go into our fight or flight mode (or paralysed in front of headlights like a frightened animal) and the adrenaline starts flowing. Key to being able to take control when experiencing this chemical change in your body is to breathe fully, stand straight and grounded, while releasing any tension and employing a positive mind-set. For more details on breath control, please see my previous blog post: ‘Face the Fear and Breathe’.
Questions are to be welcomed though, they show that the audience is engaged and can give you vital information about what they are interested in – which is so useful when you want to do business or fulfil a service with them.
If you err on the side of being afraid, rather than being excited, about the information you can gather from taking questions, then here are some top tips to help you:
- When you are answering questions don’t feel under pressure – decide not to give a knee jerk response without taking a full breath and a pause. Take your time, breathe and pause to take control, and allow helpful information to flow from your mind. You will only look nervous if you rush straight in.
- It is all in the tone of your voice – be warm, assertive and clear. When you conclude your answer, always do it with purpose. The last line will be the one most remembered and so it should be clear and definite. Avoid at any costs tailing off. Finish on a strong note.
- If you don’t completely understand or hear a question initially, don’t worry – have the courage to ask for clarification. Or you could check out the real meaning of the question by saying “What I understand you are asking is […], is that so?”
- Focus on the question and questioner – let go of any unhelpful ‘inner commentary’. It will show on your face if you allow your thoughts to be negative and panicky.
- If the question and answer session is to follow a presentation given by you – you can set the perimeters at the beginning by setting out what you are covering from the start. You can then say that you will be answering questions on these particular areas only. This will mean you control the area of questions asked.
- If you still get questions that are off-agenda – and this can happen even if you have set it at the beginning, then you can very politely tell the questioner that, ”Although that is a very interesting question, I am not covering […] at this time.” Let them know that you would however be very happy to talk to them privately at the end, and you can also get back to them at a later date. Most people will be fine with this, particularly if your tone is clear and confident.
- You need to commit to your answer – If you do this, your brain will help you to come up with answers. Sometimes you might find it helpful to repeat the question back before you answer it, or paraphrase it in the first line of your answer. Again, the science says that the brain will hear this and start to provide evidence!
- If you are faced with any conflict – the way to control this is to keep your tone steady and even and listen actively. If you answer by using the ‘parroting back’ method of using the words given by any questioner in your answer, you can eventually pin down the nub of the issue they have. If they feel that they have really been heard and they believe that you want to find a solution they are much more likely to let you move on and feel that they have been answered.
- If there is a question that you really dread coming up – then you really must prepare a basic answer for if it does. I remember watching John Cleese’s brilliant comedy series, ‘Fawlty Towers’, based in a Torquay hotel, and on one occasion he told every staff member not to mention the war – as there were German guests in the dining room. John Cleese’s character was so neurotic about it, and had it occupying his mind so much, that he himself actually mentioned it several times. Great comedy to watch, and also a reminder that sometimes we can almost manifest the thing we don’t want to come up – to come up! Preparing at least a basic answer, or what you will say if it does come up, will mean that you are much more relaxed and focussed during the session and have that possibility covered.
- Most people ask questions because they are genuinely interested in the topic and want to understand further – they are generally not laying a trap for you. If you see them as an opportunity to advance your own views and knowledge, then you will thrive and, most importantly, welcome questions, rather than fear them.
To book a free consultation with Fiona about coaching or to book onto one of her training workshops to help you to become confident and competent in how you present yourself to the world and believe in yourself, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the contact page on the website.