What makes you more nervous? Giving your sales presentation or answering questions afterwards? For most of us it’s the Q&A. You can never be sure what will happen.
You’ve probably been in situations where your presentation has gone smoothly. The audience has been friendly and then you get the unexpectedly awkward question. The purchasing manager is putting you on the spot!
Pause to control your nerves
Pausing gives you the opportunity to take a deep breath. The quickest, easiest, instant way to deal with your nerves is a deep breath. It helps you to steady yourself and focus. And it doesn’t have to be obvious that you’re controlling your nerves.
Pause for credibility
As you pause, what will your audience to be feeling? That you’re pausing to consider your reply, as a thoughtful professional does!
Answering questions is impromptu speaking. However, impromptu speaking doesn’t necessarily mean instant speaking. In fact, it’s better to begin with a pause even if you have an answer on the tip of your tongue. A pause and a thoughtful look add to your authority and credibility. A blurted or over-rapid answer detracts from them.
Pause to understand and take control
Make sure you understand the question. Listen carefully and even ask the questioner to repeat or clarify it. You can paraphrase it to make sure you’ve understood it. You can slightly rephrase the question to the form you’re more comfortable answering. “The REAL question here is…”
Pause to give your answer power
Pausing gives you an opportunity to choose a structure that will give your answer power and impact. If it’s a sales statistic you want to make it come alive. Why this number is important, how it relates to the question, or what the statistic means if there’s a risk of misinterpretation.
Many questions are requests for clarification, especially about costs, deadlines and responsibility. Try out different ways of answering. With practice you can train yourself to handle any question, even the tricky ones, gracefully. For example:
- PREP: Point, Reason, Example Point.
- Timeline: The situation in the past, what we do now, where we go from here.
- Problem-Solution: Here’s what went wrong, here’s what we did about it.
- Pros & Cons: Which one outweighs the other?
While you’re pausing and looking thoughtful before answering a question, think about which structure will make your answer most powerful.
Pause for emotional impact
As every sales person knows emotion plays a bigger role in negotiation than most people admit. A pause can raise the emotional tension if the audience is anxious to hear the answer. A carefully placed pause can make us feel warmer about a product. “Just imagine how your customers will feel when they take this beautiful product home…pause…”.
Pause to prepare
Find time to prepare. What are the FAQs in your industry? What are the FAQs of your particular job and for whatever you’re working on right now? And yes, keep a log of the questions you are most frequently asked and the most effective ways to answer them. Make your mantra ‘pause and prepare’.
By Paul Carroll, Toastmasters International – a nonprofit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. Toastmasters International has helped people of all backgrounds become more confident in front of an audience. There are nearly 300 clubs in the UK and Ireland with over 7000 members. Find your local club.