By Lisa Peluso

Public speaking has become, well — less public. It’s been relegated to our home offices, with scripted presentations, glossy slides and even “appearance touch-up” options on our video conference systems. These are helpful, almost comforting crutches and take off a bit of the pressure we feel when delivering to a room full of unfamiliar faces. But what about answering questions?

Anticipating pushback, thinking on your feet and responding confidently to questions are not tasks for the faint of heart. There is no fancy filter to make us look better during an impromptu Q&A session that follows a well-rehearsed performance. Or maybe there is…

When golf pro Sam Snead was asked how he developed such a perfect golf swing, he replied, “I correct one fault at a time.” While golfing in front of crowds of thousands is high-pressure, persistent practice payed off and Sam made it look easy.

What happens when we apply this same principle of making small changes to our own technique during high-pressure situations — such as answering questions? In a nutshell, we feel more confident and we respond more persuasively. Here are three corrections you can make today:

  • Prepare for your “priority questions.” These are the questions you’re most likely to get. Don’t avoid the tough ones! Think through (and bullet out) how you will respond to each. Will you need to hand off to other experts on your team? Let them know ahead of time.
  • Listen like a pro. Active listening is a given, but make sure you get the question right. Write it down as you listen. Clarify the question by asking for a repeat or by restating it. The question you are asked will not be exactly the question you practiced. What’s the emotion under the question, or the root concern? Address that in your response.
  • Keep it brief and clear. It’s easy to talk too much when trying to explain something. Add in nerves and the disconnect of communicating electronically where you can’t “read the room” and you’re in danger of blathering on, oblivious to having lost your audience. The cure? Begin your answer with, “The short answer is _____.” Offer just a couple of points to support that answer. Then stop speaking. As a general rule, if they want more, they’ll ask for it.

Once you’ve mastered these basics, you’ll find that it’s easier to tease out the key issue under any question. You’ll be more prepared, you’ll build trust through listening and addressing their concerns. And your responses will be clearer and easier for the listener to digest.

Correct one fault at a time.


For 20 years we’ve helped innovative life science companies prepare to win at high profile, high stakes meetings such as Advisory CommitteesOral Explanations, expert panels and advisory boards. We’ve coached thousands of professionals and led more than 250 clients through critical junctures to successful outcomes.

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