The Answer is 42

June 10, 2013

twrjy7pofIn Douglas Adams cult classic ‘The Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy’, an incredibly powerful computer Deep Thought was built to provide the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything.   After the great computer program had run for seven and a half million years, the answer was announced. The Ultimate answer to Life, the Universe and Everything .. Is…42.

Now we know you are not going to take that long to answer questions you are asked after you present and hopefully your answers will be more illuminating than 42.  So how do you answer questions?  In a follow up post to ‘Any questions’ here are our top tips.

The first is to be prepared for the questions.  You should be able to predict about 90% of your questions.  Run your presentation past a peer or trusted advisor and ask them what questions people are likely to have.  If someone else has presented similar material before, pick their brains over coffee and ask what do clients always want to know about this.  If you are going to be making the same presentation over a few times then start putting together a FAQ document.  Preparation really helps nail the Q&A section of your presentation.

When you are asked a question the first step is to acknowledge the person asking it.

Acknowledging a question

This is sometimes called ‘giving status’.  So you could say ‘That is an interesting question’, or ‘A very insightful observation’, or ‘Thanks for asking that I’m sure many people are thinking the same thing’.  Sometimes I ask for the questioner’s name and might simply say ‘Thanks Tom’.  But please this has to be genuine and make sure you do not parrot the same line after each question is asked!  That would defeat the purpose.

Repeat & Ascertain

Please check if the rest of the audience heard the question and if they haven’t repeat it for them.  Sometimes if the question was quite detailed or rambling ascertain by asking if you got the question right but narrow this down to 1 or 2 focus words, that the questioner has used.  For example by saying ‘ Would it be right to say you are asking about how to implement this in your business?’.  The focus word being implement which will then guide your answer.

Answer using PEP

Always acknowledge, repeat and ascertain if necessary and then move on to answering the question and do so using a simple 3 step formula.  Make a point, provide an example, or evidence and repeat the point you are making but use different words.  Think of this as a PEP answer: Point, Example, Point.  This helps keep your answers punchy, short and to the point.  The Q&A session is when energy drains away from the room, especially when the presenter drones on with their answers or gets on their favourite hobby horse.  PEP helps discipline presenters and keeps the energy levels buoyant in the room.

Have a wide lens when answering questions.  Quite often presenters simply focus their answer and eye contact on the person raising the question.  This does two things, it makes the person uncomfortable to be in the spotlight and it disengages the rest of the audience.  As a practical solution, when you acknowledge, and ascertain you would make eye contact with the person who asked.  When you are repeating and using PEP to answer, you would broaden your focus and look at the the rest of your audience and when you end return your focus, and make eye contact again with the person who asked to make sure they are happy with your answer.  If this sounds hard think narrow focus (eye contact with the person who posed the question), wide focus (Make eye contact with the rest of the audience) and finish on narrow focus (eye contact with person who asked the question).

Douglas Adams was asked many times why he chose the number 42 as the answer to everything and many theories from binary representations to Tibetan monks were proposed. He finally answered.  ‘The answer to this is very simple. It was a joke. It had to be a number, an ordinary, smallish number, and I chose that one.  I sat at my desk, stared into the garden and thought ’42 will do’. I typed it out. End of story’.

Perfect answer.

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