Much is being celebrated about Ashley Bloomfield’s communication skills in the wake of his resignation.
We all loved the ‘1pmers’ during lockdown. But the highlight for me was always the questions. Because when it comes to Q & A’s, Ashley smashes them. Every time.
He is clear. He is calm. He is professional. But more importantly – he is respectful. No matter what.
That’s easy to say, but much harder to do. Because let’s face it – when your ideas, job, or work are being challenged in a room full of people, a much more natural response is to be…defensive.
A defensive approach and a respectful approach are very different.
Let’s look at some common traits of a defensive approach to questions:
· The shutdown of unwanted questions.
· The speed of an answer is prioritised over the clarity of an answer.
· Passive aggressive answers and snide remarks such as, “As I have already said numerous times….” come in.
A defensive approach stems from framing Q & A’s much like a test or a battle. As something to win.
The issue with this approach is it can feel condescending, and even arrogant, to your audience. And rather than dealing with the concerns in the room, it can do the opposite, and simply snowball them.
Here are 5 tips for helping you be less defensive. And more respectful.
1. Shift your mindset
Check in with yourself to see how you are thinking about questions during your presentation. Is the thought of questions stressing you out? Are you worried you are going to get some of them wrong? This is a common concern with Q & A’s, but not particularly helpful as it means we focus on how we are being perceived (i.e., if we are passing the test!) versus focusing on actually answering the questions.
A much more helpful mindset for question time is to think, “Here’s an opportunity to have a valuable discussion with everyone in the room”.
2. Be objective
A very easy trap to fall into is making assumptions about why certain questions are being asked. You might feel that someone in the audience is undermining you or being disruptive. When your thoughts follow this pattern, it’s easy for snide comments and passive aggressive answers to slip out. Not a good look.
Instead, try being as objective as possible for every question you are asked. Framing up each question as a genuine concern for discussion will help you feel more relaxed and focused.
3. Act your age
Rolling your eyes or smiling at colleagues when hearing certain questions is not professional or respectful. Practice an open, light, and friendly tone. A genuine smile can scale back the most stressful of situations.
4. Give up the floor
It’s not easy to ask questions. So, anyone who takes the time to ask you one, deserves to be heard. Give up the floor to the questioner and let them finish.
Slouched body language, looking around the room or ‘let’s hurry this up’ hand gestures do not encourage open and respectful discussion. Stand up straight, look the questioner in the eye, and give them time.
5. Listen. Really Listen
Practicing answering questions with colleagues is a great way to prepare for tricky Q & A sessions. However, make sure you don’t end up reciting these answers at the wrong time!
When someone asks you a question, resist thinking of the answer immediately and instead: identify the key issues, e.g., “he is asking me about timing and costs”. This is very different than scanning questions for topics you have rehearsed answers for.
Questions don’t need to be a stressful part of any presentation. They are often the most valuable time of the presentation. So next question time, channel your inner Ashley. Have a wee word with yourself and ask, “Am I in defence mode, or respect mode?”
Stop presenting. Start talking.