In the first two parts of this series we focused on the preparation necessary to anticipate and prepare for possible questions and objections from your audience. In this part we focus on how you answer the questions.
The key point of this article is that if you’re a salesperson, the skills that you have learned for handling objections during a sales call are not the same skills that you use when dealing with Q&A. In fact, what works during a one on one sales call can actually hurt you during a presentation.
Most sales professionals have learned a technique for handling objections that goes something like this:
Listen carefully to the objection or question
Probe further to understand the objection if necessary
Soften, or “cushion” it by saying something like “good question”
Set up your answer by using an analogy, asking a question to redirect, etc.
Answer the objection
Check for agreement
It can be a rather long process, but it’s very effective because it avoids turning things into a debate.
So what’s wrong with using the same process for a presentation? The principal difference between a sales call and a presentation is the number of people in the room, sale and that changes the dynamic entirely.
When you’re in a call with one or two people, you need to answer questions to their satisfaction in order to move forward in the conversation. That’s why you give them every opportunity to talk and get their objections into the open.
But in a room full of people, your focus is usually not the individual, but the group as a whole. We all have faced audience members who love to ask questions just to get noticed or show how smart they are, and the worst thing you can do is to let them take over.
The standard objection process lets them do just that. Let’s modify the process:
Listen. This does not change; it is tied for the most important part of the process in either case. Don’t start trying to think of your answer while they’re still talking.
Probe. In a presentation, you want to limit this. Assume you’ve heard the question correctly and answer what you’ve heard. A little bit is OK, but probing too much may give them the floor for too long.
Soften. Drop this entirely. If you say good question to someone, you have to say it to everyone so they don’t feel slighted, and then what do you sound like?
Set up. Drop this entirely or at least keep it as short as possible. Not everyone in the room cares as much about your answer as the person who asked, so you want to keep it brief.
Answer. This is as important as listening. The first thing the entire audience is looking for is to see if you’ve answered the question. You may decide to bridge off your answer to reemphasize a point from your presentation, but you first have to earn the right by answering the question—otherwise you come across like an oily politician.
Check for agreement. Drop this, or you run the risk of opening a full can of worms that no one else cares about. Confidently assume that your answer was the right one and move on to the next question.
There is an exception to these principles. When the person asking the questions is the decision maker, for all practical purposes, he or she is the only person in the room at that time.