How To Answer Questions...Build Bridges!
February 7, 2023 | BY DR. ROBERT PORTNOY
“Are they trying to make me look bad?”
“What if I don’t know the answer?”
“What if I answer questions incorrectly?”
“Are they testing me?”
What do these questions all have in common?
The presenter assumes that listeners ask questions to criticize the presenter. This presumption is not usually true. Audiences are listening to you because they want to get value out of your presentation.
In other words, the presentation is about them, not you. And so are their questions.
The Four Questions You Need To Answer For Your Audience
Whether they tell you or not, there are four questions about which listeners are often most concerned. Answer these questions, and they will keep listening. Ignore these questions, and they will either stop listening or raise objections.
Here are the questions your audience is asking before you start talking:
- Why should I listen to you in the first place?
- Why should I keep listening?
- What do you want me to remember?
- What do you want me to do?
These questions can be thought of as “Your Listener’s Point of View.”
The presenter assumes that listeners ask questions to criticize the presenter. This presumption is not usually true. Audiences are listening to you because they want to get value out of your presentation. In other words, the presentation is about them, not you.
Building Your Response To Questions Using "The Listener's Point of View"
When faced with a question, build your answer from “Your Listener’s Point of View.” To do that, you need to build a bridge from the question back to your main point, then explain how your main point helps answer the question.
Consider an example.
You: (State Your Point) Today I’ll describe our plans to equip our district school buses with seatbelts. Our underlying concern is getting our kids safely to school and then back home. Accidents happen. As board members, let’s do everything we can to keep our kids out of harm’s way. But if the unforeseen does happen and their bus is hit by a drunk driver, those seat belts will help keep our kids safe.
Fellow Board Member: You’re putting the cart before the horse. Of course, we want our kids safe. But we can’t spend money we don’t have. Do you realize how much it would cost to totally reconfigure the buses with seatbelts? The money just isn’t there.
You: (Listener’s Point of View) You’re so right about the money issue. It’s been frustrating to all of us on this board when, time and again, we ask for bonds to increase our revenues only for the voters to shut us down. Now as you’re pointing out, how can we afford the cost of the seatbelts when we don’t have the money to pay for it?
Fellow Board Member: That’s right.
You: (Build a bridge back to your main point) And the money issue is one of the very reasons we need these seatbelts. Last year, parents in a neighboring district sued the board for neglect and won. The judge ruled that the board put financial issues over the safety of the children. The board members were removed, their personal reputations were scarred, and worst of all, ten kids almost died when they were hit head-on by some teenager who was texting instead of driving responsibly. So, can we afford the seatbelts? It will certainly be a challenge to fund them. Can we afford to risk our kids’ futures because of what some may say is neglect for their safety? I think we all know the answer.
Fellow Board Member: Okay you make some good points and I, for one, don’t want to be named in an ugly law suit. But you still haven’t told us where the money will come from. Are you going to pay for the seatbelts out of your own pocket?
You: (Show appreciation and recognition of the concern) Before we go any further, thank you for raising the concern about the funds. We need to consider this issue very carefully and not act without regard for the financial soundness of our district.
Fellow Board Member: Go on.
You: (Offer a solution) We have two challenges we need to solve. First, how can we fund the cost of the seatbelts so that we can protect our children? Second, how can we get the busses reconfigured for seatbelts so our kids can be safe? (Note – you built your bridge back to the main point – safety of the kids, several times in your response.)
What To Remember When Answering Your Audience's Questions
Remember . . .
- Answer questions, even the toughest ones, by considering Your Listener’s Point of View
- Build a bridge back to your main point
- The questions are seldom about you or your character. So don’t take them personally.
The questions are based more on the concerns that your listeners want you to address so they will know
- Why they should listen to you in the first place
- Why they should keep listening
- What you want them to remember
- What you want them to do.
How should you answer questions? Build bridges!