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Hijack the Question
And other Q&A tactics
You must save people from blather
When taking questions, your main responsibility is not to the person who’s asking.
It’s to the rest of the audience. You are their steward; you must save them from crappy questions. Here’s how.
Answer tactics is the key
You can handle almost anything if you learn a few answer tactics: simple verbal scripts for responding to questions.
You already know one such script, namely “That’s a great question.” Avoid using that one. It rarely sounds genuine, especially when used more than once.
Instead, use the following four answer tactics. They may take some practice to get right, but they are immensely helpful.
1. Hijack the question
If a question won’t add value, you can gently take control and guide it to a better place. I call this hijacking a question (in the service of the crowd).
Hijacking doesn’t mean you should ignore the question. People will catch on to that. Rather, use the question as a bridge to a good reply.
An elegant hijack stays with the topic the person raises, but answers the question they should have asked. The question is the raw material from which you craft a good response.
Here are three scripts you can use.
“Your question highlights a crucial issue, namely…”
“A helpful way to think about this topic is…”
“Right! What I love about what you’re bringing up is…”
2. “Say More”
If the question is unclear or too short to allow for a good reply, ask the person to expand:
“Can you say a bit more about that? I’d love to understand a bit more of the context.”
“I’m curious, what made you bring up that question? This sounds like something you have grappled with yourself?”
The ‘say more’ tactic is particularly useful when the person challenges you. Instead of getting defensive, show curiosity towards them.
3. Ask the audience
If you don’t know the answer (or just want to make things more dynamic), ask the group:
“I’m not sure I have a good answer to that. Does anyone have experience with this?”
“I can share my thoughts, but I’m curious: do one of you have a sense of what the answer could be?”
Worst case, if nobody responds, you’ll at least get a few extra seconds of thinking time.
Also, note how the scripts deliberately lower the bar for responding (‘have a sense of’, not ‘know’).
4. Defer it to later
If the question is off-topic or too narrow, simply defer it by referring to the group’s needs:
“Can we potentially chat after the session? I don’t think I can do your question justice with a short reply, and the longer reply might not be relevant for the full group.”
“Would you mind if we take that one by email instead? I’m a little mindful that this might not be relevant to everyone.”
If in doubt, you can ask people to raise their hand if this is something that’s relevant for them.
Summary: The tactics
Hijack the question
Ask the audience
Defer it to later
The Module Method is a guide for experts who give talks about their ideas. It’s created by Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg. Subscribe to get new guides as they come out.