How to Answer Any Question

Well-prepared speakers do not memorize answers to hundreds of potential questions. Instead, they prepare answers to categories of questions. The way a question is phrased is secondary. Think about it this way: your goal is to launch a minipresentation within a presentation.

You can use the bucket method to reframe the question in your favor. Let’s assume that your company’s product is more expensive than a similar offering by one of your competitors. Let’s also assume that there is a good reason behind the higher price. The way the question is phrased is not as important as the answer you have created for the category, which is “price.” A conversation might sound like this:

Customer: Why are you charging 10 percent more for the same product that I can get from company X?

You: You’re asking about price. [Here, “charging more” is the trigger for the answer that you prepared on “price.” Although the wording the customer chose is different from the term you chose, it triggers your prepared response on the subject.] We believe our product is priced competitively, especially for a product that improves the bottom line for our clients by 30 percent on average. It’s important to remember that we have the best service team in the industry. That means that when you need support, you’ll get it. Our team is available to you 24-7. None of our competitors can say that.

I know the CEO of a large publicly traded company who uses this method very effectively. For example, during one tough meeting, an analyst asked him to respond to some unfavorable comments made by his largest competitor. “Competition” was his trigger word. The CEO smiled and confidently maintained the high road by saying, “Our view on competition is different from many others. Our view is that you play with class. We compete by giving our customers superior service and sharing our vision for where we see this industry going. As we get more successful, we see more competitors entering the market. It’s part of the process of being a leader.” With this one response, the CEO deflected his competitor’s comments and reframed the issue to focus on his company’s leadership.

When former secretary of state Henry Kissinger was asked how he handled media questions, he said, “What questions do you have for my answers?” He had his answers already prepared. The media is a tough audience, and these days so are your customers. Don’t let uncomfortable questions throw you off your game.

The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo, p. 192-193

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