Monday, March 10, 2014

My Rules for Q&A [Jay Watts]

If you talk to groups here is a simple thing to remember about audience interaction. You may have heard the question a million times, but this is their first time asking you. Whether they are inquisitive in their manners or aggressive, they now have the opportunity to respond and choose this as their best possible question. We must respect that and use this as an opportunity to effectively reach our audience.

I love Q&A time and here are some tips I follow that help me continue to enjoy it:

1 – Q&A is part of your presentation!

The talk doesn't end when your outline runs out. How you talk to your audience will be a big part of what they remember about you. Your interaction will go considerably smoother if you prepare for this part of the job by thinking about what questions are raised by your position and what is an effective way to explain your ideas to people hearing them the first time. Which leads to point 2.

2 – Avoid technical language and find clear illustrations.

We grow comfortable with words that others never use or hear in the course of normal conversations. Using words that are over their heads doesn't make us look smart; it raises their suspicion that we are full of it. C.S. Lewis once said that if you can't simplify what you are trying to teach in order to be understood then you probably don't understand it yourself. Think through how you might answer objections and then ask yourself, “Will this make sense to someone that has never talked about this issue before?”

3 – Be gracious.

Don't be dismissive. When I tell someone that their question comes up a lot, I never refer to it is common. I try to encourage them that their question is obviously a concern that a lot of people share. 

Instead of thinking of it as a question that I hear all of the time, I recognize it as a piece to understanding the puzzle of the person in front of me. Similar questions indicate similar concerns or often similar mistakes in reasoning. The questions may be simple to you, but it is clearly something that is clogging up their thinking process. Help them sort it out.

This is still true even when the questioner is hostile; even when the question is clearly an attack and not a question. They honestly think whatever they are saying is powerful or embarrassing for you. When you handle it graciously and with a clear response it speaks volumes to everyone watching. Obviously some of the students I've talked to have a preconception, perhaps fueled by others they trust and love in their lives, about what kind of person I am or what kind of arguments I will present. It is a privilege to undermine those negative views in front of an audience by being both well informed and friendly in the face of hostility.

4 – Don't try to score points against your audience.

We are there to present the truth in love in the hope that (a) those who agree with us will be better equipped to defend their views in a gracious and impacting manner and (b) that those who disagree with us will reconsider their views in light of new information. It is not our job to show how smart we are at the expense of our audience. We win when we clearly communicate our ideas and make certain our questioner sees the areas of disagreement.

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