What is the question behind the question?
It can feel very provoking when you are asked a difficult question in a public setting. You know that you can not be fully open about the answer because of the complexities of the nuances of the situation. So how do you deal with this scenario so that the asker of the question feels acknowledged and you answer to the best of your abilities?
It can be really easy to stop breathing in those moments – as your brain is processing (and perhaps having a mini panic). If you keep breathing you are indicating to the audience and to your own body you are in control.
What is the question behind the question?:
What is it that the asker really wants to know? What are they looking for from you?
▪️ Are they fearful and looking for reassurance?
▪️ Are they doubtful and looking for evidence?
▪️ Do they have an agenda and are looking for your approval?
Once you figure this out then you will know what kind of language and what tone of voice you will need to use to help them feel better.
Acknowledge the question:
Everyone wants to be seen and heard so thank the individual for the question and then acknowledge it – its complexity, sensitivity, timeliness, or what is pertinent to the question.
Bridge to your answer:
By this stage, you will have formulated a fantastic, sensitive answer to their question. Try not to get too into the weeds (details) from the start – begin at a higher strategic level and only get into the nitty-gritty by choice at a time that suits you and the audience.
If you take this four-step approach, answering questions can feel a lot less daunting and you will look and sound calm, controlled, and competent.