Answering Questions with Commitment and Confidence – 6 Top Tips

Ever been in that situation where you’re put on the spot and asked a killer question?  People are looking at you, the pressure is on, your reputation is at stake!  What do you do in that situation? Do you pause for thought, answer brilliantly and succinctly and take an internal bow or do you say the first thing that comes into your head and hear a strange jumble of words coming from your mouth and wish the ground would swallow you up? If you can relate to the second scenario (even infrequently), then you’ll be pleased to learn that there are techniques to help you answer questions with commitment and confidence. Whether you’re in an interview situation, delivering a presentation or in a meeting, these six tips can make the road to answering the questions a smoother one.   Stock Photo


1. Do your Homework

It might sound ludicrously obvious but I’m going to say it anyway: if you know you’re going to be in a situation where you might be asked questions about a particular subject, take some time to review what you already know and pick up on any gaps in your knowledge.  If a lot is riding on you coming across well, it’ll be worth putting the effort in.  


2. Listen, Pause and Clarify

There are three things to do before you answer a question – listen, pause and clarify.  Make sure you’re listening to the whole question, breathe slower and make eye contact with the person asking the question as this will help you listen more fully.  Don’t shoot from the hip and respond within a nano-second – pause.  Compose yourself and gather your thoughts – this will help you stay in control.  Then, particularly if it’s a complex question, take the time to clarify the question.   This checks you’ve understood it, buys you time and allows your brain to start formulating an answer.  shutterstock_149280356


3. One Main Point

Aim for one key message to emerge from your answer (unless someone is actually asking you for a list!). If you stick to one main point, you’re less likely to come out with jumbled, rambling thoughts.  Make sure you support your answer (see Tip 4 below) but keep it brief so that your point is strong – don’t dilute your answer with unnecessary ‘add-ons’ which don’t do anything except stop you from being succinct.   Flowchart-Controlling-the-Process1-300x225 4. Structure your Answer

There are a number of ways you can structure your answer; the one you choose will depend on the question you’re asked.  When you pause for thought before answering, think about your choices for structuring your answer.  My favourite structuring technique is the PREP technique – here’s how you use it:  State your POSITION, give your REASON, provide an EXAMPLE to back up your answer, restate your POSITION to summarise. 

Here’s how it might sound in reality: Question“What do you think we need to do to improve things around here?”   After a pause… “I think the department could improve the way meetings are run” (Position) “A lot of time is wasted in meetings because they’re run quite informally” (Reason) “For instance, people turn up late, we rarely have agendas and we seem to go off track most of the time” (Example) “So I think there’s definitely an opportunity to improve how we manage meetings” (Position)

PREP is one way to divide your answer into structured chunks of information.  There are some other options when it comes to putting across your answer.  You could break it into Past / Present / Future; you could talk about the Ideal situation versus the Real situation or you could talk though Situation-Problem-Costs-Benefits.  


5. Keep it Real

There are a couple of points to remember about keeping it real – they are not hard to understand in theory but I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen people fail on this one.  Firstly, use real words, not jargon or colloquialisms.  It’s good communication practice to keep your language simple and easy to understand, so stick to this rule when answering questions too.  Dressing it up with highly technical phrases, or overly-descriptive language, may work well on paper but could fall flat when spoken out loud.   shutterstock_195601025The second point to remember about keeping it real is this – stick to the truth.  Don’t invent things; don’t attempt to bluff your way through your answer.  If you don’t know the answer, say so.  Acknowledge that it’s a good question and that you’d like some time to think about it so that you come up with a considered answer or find the data you need.  You’re human; sometimes you won’t know the answer.  Better to demonstrate that you can handle not knowing the answer than being caught out with a fabricated response that simply doesn’t cut it.  


6. Voice It

Finally, make sure you nail it with your voice.  Speak confidently – even if you don’t quite feel it to begin with.  You’ll give yourself actual confidence if you hear yourself answering in a clear and even voice, then, allow that confidence to build.   As you draw towards the end of your answer, make sure you maintain your voice composure.  Don’t allow your words to tail off; it will reduce the impact of what you’re saying and you’ll sound less convincing.  Finish with a confident question back to the person that posed the question:  ‘Does that answer your question?’   So, next time you find yourself in a situation where you need to answer questions competently and assertively, make sure you have these tips up your sleeve.   Good luck nailing those questions!    

Posted by Gill Bonello

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