Have you ever been in a meeting and been asked a question that left you floundering? Only to find 2 hours after the meeting on the way home you think why didn’t I say that and you find yourself coming up with all sorts of wonderful answers. Unfortunately it is a bit too late to shine in the car when there is only yourself to impress.

Have you ever been walking down the street when a media person has come up and asked your opinion on a topical subject and found yourself stuttering and uhming and ahing or waxing lyrical on nothing at all? You’ve walked away feeling embarrassed and an utter fool.

Have you ever been in an interview and faced a question that left you waffling and incoherent? And then found yourself walking out of the interview knowing you didn’t get that job / promotion because of that question you failed to answer.

Does this sound familiar? Yes, we have all been in one or more of these situations at some time in our lives. So what do all these situations have in common? They all have required you to be able to answer an unexpected question concisely, competently and coherently. They are all situations where you needed to come across intelligent and knowledgeable. They are all situations where you needed to have good presentation skills.

So, you ask, can I prepare for the unexpected question? Yes you can. It may sound like an oxymoron – preparing for an unexpected question but in the meeting and interview situations mentioned above you can certainly have a good idea of what maybe asked and have done some preparation. In the street situation you would in all probability have an opinion on the subject.

In a meeting you will know what is going to be on the agenda. (Every well run meeting should have an agenda –if there isn’t one get one.) Look for items that are within your expertise and think about any questions that may arise from the agenda items. Prepare some broad answers or do some research to take with you into the meeting.

The similar situation will apply in an interview. You can research the types of interview questions that maybe asked. There are plenty of examples on the internet. Prepare some broad answers to these questions.

Having done your preparation just how do you appear concise, competent and coherent when answering unexpected questions?

Firstly listen to the question. Listen all the way through – very often we jump in and answer the question we thought we heard rather than the one that was asked. Secondly clarify – if you are unsure of the question (and not everyone is skilled at asking question) then repeat it back to the person or ask for further detail.

Give yourself time to think – you don’t have to jump in straight away. Take a few seconds to think to yourself – what do I know about this topic / question. It will appear longer to you than to the questioner and it will be time well spent. You can organise your thoughts before opening the mouth and delivering the answer.

When you deliver your answer use a structure that will keep you on track – start with your answer / point / opinion, back it up with your reason for your answer (why you believe this), expand with personal examples or facts then finish with a conclusion by restating your point/ opinion. This is a very simple structure that will prevent you from waffling and lets you appear intelligent and believable.

This process can be used for each of the situations highlighted – the meeting, the interview or the media question. Practice until you feel comfortable. The more you use it the more natural it will appear and the more you will look and sound coherent and concise.

Don’t be caught out again prepare for the unexpected question and prepare to shine.
Trish @Trischel

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