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Handling Q&A follow up is often more challenging than giving a prepared presentation. Some questions are easy. Other questions can come out of left field and have a hostile edge. We can hurt our credibility if we don’t handle difficult questions well.

One of the most challenging question types is what we might call the question “flood.” This happens somebody asks a long laundry list of questions that are difficult to distinguish from one another.

Recently, I saw a presenter handle this type of question very well. The speaker had just finished presenting. At first, a few people asked fairly easy-to-answer direct questions.

Then, a man who had been silent up until that point asked the presenter a list of questions that grew by the second. His questions were mixed together with his own opinions. They were all strung together in a lump like last year’s Christmas tree lights. It sounded as if the questioner had bottled up his frustrations and finally let them spill out all at once. After about a minute of rambling, he capped it off with, “What do you think about that?”

Like me, I suspect the rest of the listeners had gotten more lost and confused as the question lengthened. When I hear a question like this, my attention immediately turns toward the presenter. I became anxious just imagining the pressure the presenter must have felt. I thought sympathetically, “What is he going to do with this mess?”

He handled it flawlessly. Before getting to this presenter’s answer, it is important to note the many common responses I’ve heard in situations like this by less effective communicators. He didn’t, for instance, try to separate out each question from each statement and labor through each answer point by point. He didn’t say something defensive like, “So, what exactly is your question?” which is a surprisingly common response. Neither did he downplay the importance of the questions by saying something like, “I can’t really answer all of those questions given the limited time we have.” While this last statement may be true, it doesn’t need to be said out loud.

In fact, the presenter did exactly the opposite of these. He began his response sincerely like this, “You raise some important points. There are clearly a lot issues here to be concerned about (he paused thoughtfully for just one second and continued). Here’s my overall take on your concerns.” The presenter then gave just two or three more sentences that stated his overall position on the issues and called on the next person without missing a beat.

In just a few brief statements, the presenter solved what seemed like a riddle. How can we respond respectfully and usefully to a question flood without letting the question dominate the Q&A session? Everybody in the room breathed a sigh of relief that the Q&A didn’t devolve into a frustrating waste of time. The presenter’s elegant response followed some principles we should all learn.

1) He acknowledged the emotional concern of the questioner. Strong emotions are often at the heart of the question flood. A skilled communicator, thus, will respond directly to the emotion the questioner is expressing. It looked as though the presenter was listening very carefully to the questioner and taking his concerns seriously. When the presenter then said, “You raise some important points.” It undoubtedly felt good for the questioner to hear the presenter’s empathy verbalized. I expect that the questioner was feeling at that moment, “I’m glad the presenter sees my ideas as important.”

2) The presenter acknowledged the breadth of issues the questioner brought up. By saying, “There are clearly a lot of issues here,” he simultaneously paid respect to the full array of the questioner’s remarks and gracefully let himself off the hook of having to answer each one individually. The unspoken ending to the statement, “that would take too long to answer individually” didn’t need to be said. Most audience members in attendance are intelligent enough to recognize that a presenter really can’t and even shouldn’t spend all of his or her time answering just one person’s large bundle of questions. Instead, the presenter just paused thoughtfully for one second and moved forward.

3) His answer matched the type of question that was asked. That is, direct questions get direct answers. General questions get general answers. The presenter knew something that most communicators don’t. When the question flood comes, seek high ground. In other words, when we hear multiple questions and statements together in a disorganized fashion, it’s best for the speaker to handle the question flood as one general question. The longer the list of questions, the less an audience wants each question to be answered individually. They want an answer from a bird’s eye perspective. The presenter’s preface, “Here’s my overall take on this,” signaled that his answer would be a big picture rather than point-by-point answer.

Difficult questions can get the best of us if we aren’t prepared and can cost us some credibility. Presenters and leaders should drill and practice answering questions just as much as they practice their presentations.

Source by Alexander Lyon

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