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7 skills every professional must have

Last updated on: January 24, 2013 18:41 IST

7 skills every professional must have

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After making a great presentation, you often fumble over the questions posed by the listeners. Charanpreet Singh, Associate Dean, Praxis Business School, Kolkata tells you how to tackle the audience with finesse.

A lot has been written about why presentation skills are essential for work success and what comprises a good presentation.

However, the skill of addressing and answering questions asked by the audience during and post the presentation is as important.

The audience has come to listen to, learn from and/or assess your presentation.

These objectives are served better if you encourage the audience to ask questions and subsequently address these questions effectively.

Needless to say, both presentation and Q&A skills are a must for any professional, today.

We examine some ways in which one can become better equipped to handle audience questions.

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1. Know your audience

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Who are they? What do they aim to take away from the discussion?

What do I want them to think/do after the presentation?

An analysis of the audience will help you anticipate the kind of questions you may be asked and the level at which you need to pitch the answers.

If you are a student making a presentation in class, your premier audience is the professor, whose objective in listening to you is to assess your performance.

In a seminar or conference, you could be the subject expert in which case the audience wishes to learn from your delivery.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh





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2. Anticipate questions

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A large part of the preparation gets accomplished while researching the content.

But it is prudent to go one step further -- anticipate questions that may arise in the minds of the audience and ensure that you have the requisite knowledge to formulate answers to them.

If your work is up for assessment (as it would be in an academic situation), it's mandatory that you spend adequate time on the subject/project to attain a high level of familiarity with the concepts and their applications.



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3. Practise active listening

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Good listening involves allowing the participant to complete the entire question, rephrasing the question in one's own words to ensure that there is a shared understanding of the query and listening to not only the words but also the tone and the body language that accompany the words.

Listen well to try and understand the question.

Often the presenter makes quick and often wrong assumptions about the question, starts answering before the question is completed and ends up saying something that does not address the query at all.

Another issues is that the inquirer may not always be able to frame the question well -- engage with him or her and draw out a coherent query that can then be addressed.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh





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4. Analyse and articulate

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Don't be in a hurry to answer -- smart presenters take their time.

Structure your response, articulate clearly, and in a language that helps the questioner understand you easily.

Complex, verbose answers betray a lack of clarity. Present the content (in this case the answer to the query) in as simple a manner as possible.

Citing examples from real life situations or drawing analogies from well-known phenomena are good ways of explaining a concept.

There are often multiple questions hidden in one query -- recognise this, break it up into constituent questions and answer one at a time.



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5. Check for acceptance

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The best way to do this is to simply ask, 'Does this answer your question'?

There are several reasons for this -- one, the questioner may not have been able to articulate the question well; two, you may have misinterpreted the question; three, your answer may make sense to you, but not to the questioner as s/he does not have the same level of understanding of the subject matter.

If it wasn't, you may need to revisit the question, or rephrase your answer appropriately.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh





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6. Don't be afraid to say 'I don't know'

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There could be aspects that you are not familiar with. In this scenario, the best policy is to admit this to the questioner.

However, follow that up with an assurance that you would check with your resources and get back to him/her in due course with a useful response.

Presenters often attempt to bluff their way out of the situation by concocting unlikely answers and end up making a spectacle of themselves.

Also, you run the risk of misleading a large section of the audience with incorrect inputs and wasting everyone's time as well.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh




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7. Be a team player, but don't substitute for others

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Presenting in a group is the norm in academic institutions.

In such a situation, in addition to being assessed for individual performance, you are also judged on your team skills, especially during the Q&A session.

The rules are simple: answer the question only if it is addressed to you -- do not step in to answer your team-member's question, even if you think you know the subject better.

Don't let your body language betray your disappointment or frustration with the quality of answer provided by your team member -- it shows a lack of team spirit.

Never interrupt a colleague when he/she's speaking -- you may seek the permission of the professor and add to what your colleague has said, provided you think that it would enhance your performance as a team.

Accept responsibility for any errors that the team may have made -- even if you were personally not involved in that part of the presentation.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh





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