The first rule of answering questions is: don’t start speaking until you’ve decided what you’re going to say.
The second rule of answering questions is… Reference to the rules of Fight Club is perhaps getting a bit old now but the point still absolutely stands. The worst thing you can do is start rambling before you have any idea where you’re going. Here is a cautionary example of what can happen if you do:
Before we judge the unfortunate Miss South Carolina too harshly, let’s remember it’s Miss Teen USA. She’s very young and under a great deal of pressure and, given my own teenage embarrassments, I am certainly not going to cast a stone at her. But what can we learn from her experience?
Prepare! I was saying in my last post that a huge advantage of making a speech or presentation is that you get to prepare and practise it in advance. While this isn’t quite true of questions, often you’ll have an idea of the sort of thing people might ask about and it will make all the difference if, in the days preceding the event, you’ve focused and articulated your opinions, so that they’re at the front of your mind and easily accessible in the heat of the moment.
Think about it. It’s OK (in fact, often vital) to take a couple of seconds to marshall your thoughts before you start speaking. If you absolutely must fill that space, then say something like, “That’s an excellent question”, which allows you to play for time while also remaining in control. If you set off on a sentence and you don’t know where it’s going to end, you’ll hear yourself waffling and the worry about this will take over your mind.
Stay grounded. If you’re in a state of high anxiety, it will be difficult to speak coherently. To give yourself the best chance of coming across well, prepare thoroughly, so that with luck you’ll have something at the front of your mind to draw on, whatever the question. Knowing you’re well prepared will also help you feel more relaxed and free your mind to engage with the questions.
As well as preparing what you might say in response to questions, remember to be disciplined about your psychological preparation. The more stressful the event potentially is, the harder you need to work on getting yourself mentally ready. If you can stay grounded throughout the event, you’ll have all your wits about you and be able to answer questions calmly and clearly.