The fundamental skill of answering questions effectively
After more than 12 years of examining the concept, and after teaching it successfully for more than 10 years, I am completely convinced that the most important thing we can teach presenters and spokespeople alike is to pause, answer the question and stop talking.
First of all, it offers protection. If you've ever given evidence at a trial or examination for discovery — and you were coached by a lawyer prior to giving that evidence — you were undoubtedly told to pause and think about the question asked prior to ever opening your mouth. You were then told to answer that question and that question only. Then you were told to stop talking. (Although a lawyer may tell you to "shut up," the net result is exactly the same.)
Does your legal counsel tell you to P-A-S because he or she wants you to reduce or eliminate your credibility as a witness? No, the lawyer wants you to protect yourself and protect your credibility.
Does the lawyer want you to P-A-S so that you can put the case or organization at risk, which will then translate into increased billable hours? No. Although that's a bit tougher to answer, the lawyer tells you to P-A-S so you can protect the organization.
If this advice offers protection in a court of law, why wouldn't it offer similar protection in a court of public opinion when someone is answering questions from a print reporter, or when a presenter is answering questions from a hostile community group, a semi-hostile management team or a board of directors?
It can. And it does.
Communicate More Effectively
But beyond that, P-A-S enables someone to communicate more effectively. Quite simply, by asking more questions the person receiving the information can create better understanding.
About a year ago, my wife and I decided to put ceramic tile in our entranceway and kitchen. We were undecided about whether to do the job ourselves or to hire a contractor.
One evening, I went to Home Depot to do some research. I had the good fortune of encountering a very confident young man who had obviously installed a lot of ceramic tile. How did I know he was confident? He did not feel compelled to talk endlessly whenever I asked him a question.
In fact, he simply answered each question and stopped talking, waiting patiently for the next question.
In the 15 or 20 minutes that we chatted, I bet I easily asked more than 100 questions. My 18-year-old son was with me and, as we were walking out of the store he remarked: "Dad, that was amazing. I can't believe how much I learned. I know exactly how to install tiles and what needs to be done. You asked great questions."
Actually, I didn't ask great questions. I was simply given the opportunity to ask a lot of questions -- which I would never have gotten if the person answering did not P-A-S.
We ended up hiring someone to install the tiles, so some could argue that he lost a sale and didn't achieve his organization's objectives. However, that's short-sighted. The reason? Based on that experience, my local Home Depot is my first stop whenever I'm even thinking about any kind of improvement to our home.
The same applies to other situations. Want a reporter to trust you? Want the management team or board of directors to trust that you'll deliver? Teach yourself the same simple tactic.
Pause. Answer the question. Stop talking.