Handling sticky questions in any situation and especially a business situation is an art.

At some time you will be put on the spot either in a meeting or at the end of a pitch or presentation.

You need to be prepared and have some pre-prepared answers for the commonest questions, these answers need to come out to get your message across.

Have a few ‘plants’ at the back asking you a few pre prepared questions.

Despite preparation there will always be questions you either can’t answer or don’t want to answer.

You need to have a few well oiled responses to redirect any criticism and to come out of any question and answer situation smelling of roses.

There is one golden rule and that is;

Listen to the Entire Question before you respond.

Using the following techniques you can respond in a combination any of 4 ways or even a combination of these which range from delaying your answer to not answering the question at all.

Either Delay, Deflect, Delegate or Defer the questions.

Creating a Delay will give you time to think, the time for you to structure a better answer or maybe create a pause in proceedings for someone who likes to be heard pitch in and answer the question for you. In a stressful situation you probably only need seconds to collect your thoughts and formulate a good answer.

You should use a delay when you know you can answer and just need a few seconds to get your thoughts together obviously if you can’t answer the question this is not the best option.

Typical ways of doing this are repeating the question, then crediting the person for asking the question.

e.g. For those that didn’t hear, the question was…………………………………………………

e.g. That’s a very good question……………………………………

Deflecting the Question is for harder questions that you can answer but probably choose not to, this has to be done carefully as it can create conflict, and if done too often can make you look as if you are avoiding the question (which you are).

The Throw Back is my favourite way of deflecting a question by throwing it back to the person asking it.

e.g. What exactly do you mean by this?

e.g. Have you got an example of this?

e.g. What exactly do you mean?

e.g. Can you tell me what you are thinking?

e.g. Why do you think that?

e.g. and I’m sure you already know the answer or have the solution.

Done right with a ‘throw back’ they answer the question for you.

It’s also a great option when you want to understand why someone has asked the question and it can show someone’s real motives to the group.

N.B the throw back is not an option in a political situation as all you are doing is letting someone else take control of the conversation and get their views across.

Bridging the question is another technique, here you use it to steer the subject of the question to another subject, one that you want to talk about and are prepared to answer. My only worry with this technique is that the questioner is a good listener and isn’t satisfied and asks the question again making you more obliged to answer it specifically.

e.g. That’s a great question, and thank you for asking, it’s an issue we are taking very seriously and what I can say right now is…………………………………

e.g. Great question and the issue isn’t…………..(subject of question) its………………………… and that means………………………………

e.g. (repeat subject of question),………………….and that means……………….

or simply Yes, thank you and that means……………………………………….

Opening it up to the whole group, creates discussion, opening things up to the group is easy to do when the group are on your side, there is energy in the room and they want to talk.

This is not an option when the situation may be too formal or in a room where you feel nobody wants to talk, silence and tumble weeds doesn’t make you look good at all.

e.g. I’m sure there are others here that could answer that question.

or simply I’d like to open that question up to the floor.

Delegating the Question

When you are part of a team or a panel, you can easily pass or hand off the question to somebody else, beware they will probably do the same to you if you haven’t already worked out before which areas are your strengths.

I’d like to ask……………………….. that question, who may be able to give a better answer.

Deferring 

If you think you can’t answer the question, it’s probably a good idea not to try and answer it, there are ways you can do this without making yourself look like a fool in front of a crowd, there will always be questions that you just can’t deflect or delegate.  The best way is probably to reply by agreeing on the importance of the issue and promising to answering the question at another time.

e.g. I understand that is an important issue and that’s something we need to discuss off-line

e.g. I understand that is an important issue,  can I get the exact answer and get back to you

or That’s not really in the topic of this presentation and it’s beyond the scope of this meeting

To give extra importance ask someone to additionally write down the question, take the name of the person and get back to them.

Summary

Try and practice all of the above, spend some time practising the examples in real life situations, what will happen is that the correct responses will come automatically, and appear natural when you are put on the spot.