So, The Short Answer Is Yes.
Maybe this is just a pet peeve of mine. But I really wish presenters would get to the point when answering questions.
In our presentation skills workshops participants often say they worry about being accurate when answering questions. In our experience they’re worrying about the wrong thing. They know more about their topic (usually) then they give themselves credit for. What they should be worrying about is not annoying their listeners by rambling on and on.
How? By providing the short answer first, then making the decision (or not) to go into more detail. Here’s an example:
“What’s the outlook for the coming fiscal year as it pertains to growing market share?”
A typical long-winded Answer:
“Market share is something we’re all focused on moving forward. As we all know we’ve been struggling with this for a long time and competitor X is not showing any signs of weakness especially since launching their much-hyped SuperWidget. As a side note, I’ve heard all they did was make it prettier without really changing the design.
Getting back to your question, as we know, we’ve got a lot of innovation in the pipeline. At last count I believe we had 3 new products and 5 brand extensions. We’ve improved our distribution capabilities through our partnership with MoveItNOW, and our new alignment between marketing and sales (thanks to members of this team) is working well.
Over the next fiscal year, we should be well positioned to grow market share. So to answer your question, the outlook is excellent.”
The speaker builds his case carefully and eventually gets to his answer, but he takes a long time doing it.
A more concise answer:
“The outlook is excellent.”
You’re probably thinking that this very short answer doesn’t provide enough detail. You may be right. But, as I said above, it should be a decision to say more, not a knee-jerk reaction.
If your listeners look like they want more detail, the answer might look something like this:
“The outlook is excellent.
(The speaker pauses to think and make the decision to expand upon the answer.)
Despite competitor X launching SuperWidget, we’ve worked hard to position ourselves for market share growth. Examples, as you know, include our new focus on innovation, our improved distribution capabilities and the alignment between marketing and sales. Because of these initiatives we are well-positioned to grow market share.”
The short answer provides framework for the longer answer.
In this example, the short answer—“The outlook is excellent”—provides context for the details presented in the rest of the answer. Think of it as the thesis sentence for the answer, it’s placement at the beginning of the response makes the longer answer easier to understand.
If you’ve attended one of our workshops or are a regular reader of this blog, you know that we think presenters need to take responsibility for maintaining their listeners’ attention. As Dale, our President, often says, “listeners are a little bit lazy and a lot distracted. Do what you can to keep them engaged.”
I agree. Keeping your answers short and easy listen to is one way to do that.
What are your thoughts?
Written by Greg Owen-Boger
Greg Owen-Boger has been with Turpin Communication since 1995, first as a cameraman, then instructor, account manager, and now vice president. Schooled in management and the performing arts, Greg brings a diverse set of skills and experiences to the organization. Greg is one of Turpin’s facilitators and coaches. When he’s not with clients, he manages the day-to-day operations of the company. Greg is an active member of the Association for Talent Development (ATD) and was the 2015 President of ATD, Chicagoland Chapter. He is a popular speaker, frequent blogger, and the co-author of the book The Orderly Conversation: Business Presentations Redefined. His latest book, also co-authored by Dale Ludwig, launched in 2017 and is entitled Effective SMEs: A Trainer’s Guide for Helping Subject Matter Experts Facilitate Learning.