June 01, 2011
Training Tip 12: Handling Questions, Part II
OGE regulations give question and answer periods an exalted status in the training process. OGE requires no live lecture: You can use written materials, a videotape, or an online presentation. The one indispensable element? A "qualified instructor must be available during and immediately after the training." 5 C.F.R. § 2638.704. Subsection 2638.704(c)(5) explains the meaning of "qualified": Able "to respond to ethics questions raised during the training." (Emphasis added).
Very little is indispensible--except the for opportunity for questions and answers. OGE takes Q & A seriously--and so should we. This month we have Part II of our series of Training Tips on answering questions:
Reflect before reacting. After repeating the question, as recommended last month, don't be afraid to take a few seconds to think before you begin your answer. As noted by Garr Reynolds in his book The Naked Presenter (2011): "It's a conversation, not a race."
Value brevity. Rambling, repetitive answers can squander the good impression you have worked so hard to create in the body of your presentation. Make the important points concisely and then shut up. If you are lucky enough to be in a situation where you can use Q & A forms (see Training Tip 10), then take advantage of it as a way to tighten your answers.
Respect questioners. Never, never make a questioner feel ignorant or stupid. It's also important to avoid disrespecting them more subtly by appearing to be bored or condescending in your answer. Unless the questioner is blatantly a major league jerk, the rest of the audience will identify with them, not you, so disrespecting a questioner is the functional equivalent of disrespecting the whole audience. Even if you wish you were somewhere else, you should strive to treat each questioner like she is star NPR interviewer Terry Gross and you are a guest on her show Fresh Air.
Match your demeanor the the question. Malcom Kushner suggests in Public Speaking for Dummies, 2nd Ed.:
If someone is confused, be understanding. If someone is blatantly offensive, be forceful and disapproving (without counterattacking). If someone is seeking information, be professorial. Never lose control of yourself. Never be discourteous.
Know how to deal with a dead audience. No questions? Not a problem for the resourceful presenter! Prime the pump by asking yourself a question, one whose answer will advance the purposes of your presentation. Ask a question that an audience member asked you privately before your talk. Break the ice by asking the audience questions: "How many of you think X? How many think Y?" Offer to answer questions privately. They may have questions they don't want to expose to the group.
Do not let the Q & A session run late. This goes double if you are the last speaker before lunch, or the last speaker of the day. This is one of many things I learned from the best presenter I've been lucky enough to work with, Greg Siskind. If people have questions they really want to ask, they can catch up with you after the session.
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