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Chapter 13. Interact Successfully Managing Q&A > Field and Clarify Questions

Field and Clarify Questions

DOE's Denny Krenz tells of how one team's Q&A performance cost them heavily: "We were reviewing the proposal presentation of a contractor's management team. One member was an arrogant SOB. When our reviewer would pose a question, the guy would challenge it. Our side would ask another question, he'd challenge it. What a turnoff! In our evaluation, he got zero. For God's sake, don't talk down to the board."[4]

  • Listen to the entire question. A common urge is for the presenter to start answering before the questioner completes the question. Often this results in the wrong question being answered and irritation to the questioner.

  • Make sure you understand it. Even if you listen to the total question, you may not understand it the same way the questioner does. Audience members don't necessarily put into words exactly what they mean and often don't clearly know what they want to ask. Some checking and restating may help clarify ambiguities and get at the real question.

  • When appropriate, repeat the question. In large meetings especially, before answering make sure that all can hear. How often in meetings do you hear the irritated shout, "PLEASE REPEAT THE QUESTION!!!" Sometimes it takes three or four of these shouts before the speaker gets the message.

  • When using graphics, consider putting that graphic up on the screen. For computer-based presentations, learn the software method for locating a given visual. If the discussion is not connected to the on-screen image, blank it to eliminate the distraction. With an overhead projector, locate the specific transparency, which is easy if you've (a) numbered each one, and (b) kept old ones in a neat stack for easy recovery.

  • Treat each question seriously and respond professionally. Avoid verbally or nonverbally rebutting with, "Boy, is that a dumb question!" or "I just told you that." It's possible that you may not have communicated as clearly as you thought. Before answering, explore and develop the question so that you understand it. Above all, don't embarrass the questioner.

  • Resolve factual errors or misunderstandings quickly. Often the question arises from incorrectly stated or understood facts.

  • Defuse the loaded question. Audience members have been known to ask no-win or trick questions—the "When did you stop beating your spouse?" type. Questions asked in a way that prevents a fair answer need skilled but decisive treatment. "Is it A or B?" can be expanded to include C and D before answering. Shaky premises should be tactfully challenged. For example, the statement "Since oil companies caused the so-called fuel shortage, why shouldn't they be nationalized?" should not be answered with "What a dumb statement."

  • Determine whether you or a colleague should answer. If the question can be better answered by someone else, direct it to her. Caution: First look at your colleagues to see if they're eager to help or have gone into hiding.

  • Give all audience members a chance to ask questions. As the person in front, you may have control over who asks questions by where you stand and look. Listen for interruption points in a monologue to divert the discussion to another audience member who seems anxious to talk. State that you would like a variety of inputs, to encourage others.



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