ONLINE SEMINARS (or webinars) are giving way to face-to-face (FTF) events. Both formats require answering questions from the floor. Often, the speaker is not the only one who prepared the presentation. A small group of assistants and cut-and-paste artists provide the slides and text which is read out in a modulated voice with indicated pauses for applause or laughter.
There are scripted answers for anticipated questions. But there are always curve balls no one at rehearsals has prepared for. (Can we go back to chart number 40? Kindly explain the algorithm used to determine the demand side of Maine lobsters served at five-star hotels.)
There is no need to admit ignorance or desperately direct the questions to the one moving the slides forward. (Can I refer your question to my able assistant?) The interrogator is not out to be enlightened anyway but to project his own expertise and make the speaker look like a mixed metaphor, a deer caught in the horns of a dilemma.
Here are some ways to handle questions from the floor.
Restate the question to one you can answer. If someone asks a technical question on the state of digital banking in unserved rural areas in the country (Good question, Ma’am) — “So, you want to know how sea food exports to Japan are affected by the West Philippine Sea incursion by China?” You relate this to seaweed wrappers also increasing in price and describe the impact of cosplay costumes on Japanese millennials.
Speakers shouldn’t be thrown off by a follow-up comment — “I’m sorry, Sir. But I don’t think you are answering the question I asked.” This naked display of discourtesy deserves an aggressive response. Can we give others a chance to ask questions please? The gentleman in a white shirt and black bowtie, carrying a tray at the back — please can we hear from you? (Yes, you can put down the drinks and get to the microphone.)
There is bound to be a particular question you are really prepared for. Don’t rush with an answer since this gives the game away. Pause thoughtfully, as if reading the words on the billboard outside the hotel. (What happened to the skin whitener ad there yesterday?) And then slowly deliver the rehearsed response. End with a thought for the day (Not all swans are white) and reach for a glass of water.
Data-driven insights tend to impress the crowd. When the question is hostile, implying that management is clueless and cannot tell its elbow from its macaroni, numbers need to be trotted out. The more obscure the statistic, the better. Turnover of clients was in the low twenties, last quarter at 20.5%. (It’s good to stick to one decimal place if only to show accuracy.) Stickiness and retention indices have been climbing in Q3 by 3.7% and the trajectory seems to be going North, though not in a hockey-stick curve.
Jargon is another weapon. It is best to use terminology the audience is unfamiliar with. When facing financial analysts, technobabble is preferred. (Zero-day cyber-attacks have been non-existent as our firewalls are holding up.) With techno geeks, throw in some financial terms — leverage of debt has been improving with rises in free cashflow in Q2. When facing both, Latin phrases win the day — as they say, de gustibus non est disputandum. Any further questions?
View with suspicion anybody who opens with, “I have three questions for you.” A trap is being set here with the first easy question — Why do you use Tony for your column byline? Take your time to answer — I don’t see where you’re going with this. Tony is a pseudonym I sometimes use. Can we move on?
When do you wind up the open forum? Even with long answers and platitudes, the allotted time is usually too generous. The moderator should be coaxed to announce the last question.
Reviews of the speaker’s performance only apply to inaugural speeches (your dream is my dream) and maybe policy statements on the alert level applicable to NCR.
Otherwise, the informal feedback on a speaker’s impact can be gauged by the number of tables that still have warm bodies around, and maybe some oblique reference to the talk — that was a waste of time.
One needs to be reminded to put the face mask back on.
Tony Samson is chairman and CEO of TOUCH xda