As humans we enjoy talking about ourselves, more than 60% of conversations are spent talking about our favourite topic, us. But why when it comes to asking us questions in a meeting, presentation, demo why do we choke up, freeze, panic and want to flee the scene?

Too often I speak with clients who express their desire to improve handling questions under pressure. Pressure being, Executives in the audience, not completely familiar with the content, feeling if they don't answer the question perfectly they will seem inadequate, under-skilled for their role or simply not liking the spotlight with all eyes on them.

To really get to the bottom of it, I start asking why they think they freeze in these situations?  They indicated they didn't know, or do they and they are not comfortable bringing it to the surface?When I first started in sales in my early 20's, I was calling on hospital executives. I didn't know what imposter syndrome was at the time, but it certainly sat beside me in a few meetings.

If I heard my product slightly mentioned in a question, I safely shared my key selling messages, not fully aware of the question asked, but I heard a semblance of it being mentioned. The thought of clarifying, asking for an example did not enter my brain, I already felt young, lacking experience and to show I did not understand the question would have ended the meeting early, or would it?

My perception at the time and many others today is that asking for clarity, an example, more details to fully understand the question is a sign of weakness and perhaps lack of intelligence. I argue it is completely the opposite, it is a sign of strength. We are showing our audience I truly want to help you, provide the information, answer your question but to do that I need to fully understand it, which puts the onus on them to sharpen their pencil.

Were they as clear as they could be when they first asked it? Were they thinking of their question as they were asking it so it only makes sense to them?  does it lack context, so many reasons why. If we do nothing, we sit in awkwardness or miss an opportunity to engage, educate our audience, share our experiences with our product, solution, but to do this we need clarity.

So, what can I do in these situations?

Prepare as much as you can for demos, presentations, and internal meetings. There will be Q & A throughout and after, anticipate the questions asked as best you can, know your audience, know what is important to them. What type of questions will they be asking, based on their role, personality, influence in the room? Consider the various stakeholders and their points of view. It is difficult to do this on the spot.

What presence are you bringing to the meeting? You can control this.

Dr. Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist, did a study on the effect of power posing and our body language before major presentations, interviews. She quotes " our bodies change our mind, our mind changes our behaviour and our behaviour changes our outcomes.  Can you channel your inner Sasha Fierce? Listen to Amy's Ted Talk here "Don't fake it until you make it, fake it until you become it".

PAUSE- Before answering, take a breath, 3-5 seconds is unnoticeable. Collect your thoughts, do you have enough information to answer, who is my audience- what is the best way to answer knowing what they are interested in. Breathe in confidence and set the inner negative voices to the side, if we allow them in, they will take over and hi-jack the meeting.

If you are unsure of the question being asked, lean into your curiosity, disarm and be conversational, it invites your audience to do the same. "I'm not sure I understand your question, can you provide an example" along the way you are gathering more information, connecting, and starting to build trust, all this before you even answer the question.

Be mindful of the question behind the question, sometimes there is an ulterior motive, don't be afraid to call it out. "Interesting question, curious as to why you are asking this or where this question is coming from?" Ensure your tone is inquisitive vs confrontational. Pausing invites you to be intentional versus reactive. Embrace the silence.

If you are new to these types of meetings, engagement, sales, detach from your audience's position, title, executive presence. They are the leader of the company; you are the expert on your solution. You need each other, but you need to understand each other's business points of view to know how you can support one another. Seeking clarity first will be respected, nobody wants an answer that was delivered before the question was fully asked, a canned response with no customization or lack of context.Take your time, make the other person feel valued and remember regardless of their title we all put our pants on one leg at a time, we are all human.

When there is a mix of high and lower power, the lower power position tends to make ourselves smaller, we don't mirror their non-verbal's. Pair this with getting in our heads, telling ourselves we can't easily become the truth, if not intercepted. Seek first to understand, I always say clarity of communication is in the quality of response. It may not be on you. If you are unsure "I'm not completely sure, happy to do some research and get back to you via phone, email etc. People would rather wait and get the right answer.

Don't trade credibility with being a Rockstar in the meeting, know the facts, and have a little fun. Learn to dance at the moment, why not give it a try.

How do you prepare for the spotlight whether it be a presentation, difficult questions on a panel, board or internal meetings with executives?

Try some of the solutions above and notice the difference.

About Karen Kelly

For 20 years Karen has been specializing in the art and science of sales and communication her passion and experience are helping technical sales professionals become more confident and to disrupt with value.

Her dedication to developing and delivering customized sales training programs provide her audience practical, relevant tools  that can be used immediately to break down the barriers in a competitive landscape and separate themselves from the noise.

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