Common Mistakes That People Make When Answering Questions by Peter Dhu

The Question and Answer (Q and A) session can be a key component of any presentation, meeting or training session. It is where your audience asks questions that fill the gaps in their knowledge and clarify their understanding of what you have said. Unfortunately, many speakers and trainers struggle when the Q and A session starts. And this may have a negative impact on their core message, the action that they want people to take and your own credibility as an expert in your field.

Acknowledging that Q and A can be tough, here are some common mistakes that I see and if you are able to avoid them you will be seen as more confident, more credible and more reliable in your area of expertise.

  1. Not answering the question at all. Not answering the question or evading it really does annoy your audience. We see it a lot on TV when politicians don’t answer questions. But politicians are media trained and they often avoid answering questions because of the key message or key “media grabs” that they want to provide. But we are not politicians, and evading or not answering a question makes us look less than credible.
  2. Trying to answer a question when you don’t know the answer. Your audience will know if you are making an answer up or just trying to wing it. The best strategy is to acknowledge that you don’t have the answer and that you will find out and get back to them. This is called “taking the question on notice.” We can not know everything and have an answer to every question and taking the question on notice is far better than making up an answer.
  3. Being too long-winded (verbose) in your answer. This is a common event that I see when people go to job interviews. They feel that if they keep speaking and saying more and more, ever expanding on their answers, they will sound more intelligent. No you will not. A general rule that I use for responding to questions is that “less is often more”. Get to the point, answer the question and move onto the next question.
  4. Not repeating or paraphrasing the question. I have been listening to a lot of press conferences over the past few years, mostly related to Covid updates around our various states. And often, one journalist asks a question, which we the audience do not hear, and the response is “ yes I agree with you. In fact, I think everyone should adopt that approach”. To which I say, what an approach. The good speakers paraphrase or repeat the question so that we in radio land or TV land can hear what was asked. I notice the Auslan interpreter signs the question and then signs the answer, ensuring that Auslan communicators understand both the question asked and the resultant answer to that question.

Your Q and A session can be tough and simply by avoiding some of those common mistakes you will be more confident and credible in your Q and A sessions. 

For anyone interested in improving their Q and A skills and other off the cuff skills, I am running an online Thinking And Speaking Off The Cuff Masterclass. 

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