High Stakes Q&A: Try These Tips

Even if you’ve been avoiding the news at all costs, you probably heard that one of the most high-stakes, public Q&A sessions of the year happened last week. An estimated 19.5 million people watched it on network television, and that doesn’t count those who live-streamed it from their desks, since after all, it happened from 10am-1pm ET on a work day. (By comparison, only 16 million tuned into Game 3 of the NBA Playoffs during prime time.)

Put your thoughts about domestic and international politics on pause – just for a moment – and learn about how to handle a tough Q&A session.

Whether you tuned in for Former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee or not, would you expect the former director of the FBI to be good at Q&A? Yes, of course.

But that’s not what drove us to write this blog.

From a communication perspective, Comey was incredible. He appeared honest, unflappable and believable. Though we’ve shared Q&A do’s and don’ts before, there is more to learn.

Here are five communication takeaways we can learn from his testimony:

  1. Connect with Humility and Vulnerability. Comey acknowledged that he didn’t react in the best way. He acknowledged that he didn’t have more courage to call out the president. And he didn’t come off as a know-it-all in answering the questions. Humility and vulnerability are powerful tools when it comes to connecting with your audience and developing an emotional connection.
  2. Humor (at appropriate points) Works. He said he broke a date with his wife to have dinner with the president. It made us laugh! To clarify, he didn’t make a mockery of the session or the questions. He used humor to add levity. He also kept it factually accurate.
  3. Being Respectful Earns Respect. Comey answered all the questions thoughtfully and earnestly. He didn’t even come across as impatient when the questions were nit-picky or less-relevant. When you’re in the hot-seat for Q&A, respect is earned by being succinct, complete, patient and forthcoming.
  4. Protect Sensitive Information. No need to distort the truth or water down the details if there is something too sensitive to reveal. Comey simply said, “I cannot speak about that in an open session.” This is a model response for classified details.
  5. If You Don’t Know, Say So. Even more importantly than keeping sensitive information in the right hands is acknowledging when you don’t know. This can be the trickiest one to apply when you are called upon to be a subject matter expert. It’s tempting to feign familiarity. Instead, it’s always best to address it honestly and head-on.

So much of the communication experience hinges on first impressions. What was so impressive about Comey was his consistency throughout the testimony.

It will be interesting to see how Trump stacks up in a my-word-against-his battle. What do you think?

You Are Your Presentation

It happened again. Another case of PowerPoint abuse. This time the offender was House Speaker Paul Ryan—and we’re just waiting for an SNL skit on this one. ICYMI: Last week, he held a press conference to explain the newly proposed healthcare plan—a massively debated issue. And he used a PowerPoint … Continue reading

Top 10 Communication Moments of 2016

What a year. The Olympics. A Presidential Election. So much noise this year – a colossal communications cacophony. What, then, stood out? The moments. With such a divisive political, economic and social landscape this year, we found that people heard what they wanted to hear, and we also felt it … Continue reading

Sorry, I’m Not Sorry

“I’m sorry, you go first.” “I’m sorry, I need to grab something.” “Sorry, can I scoot by you?” How often do you start a statement with a quick, “I’m sorry…”? This Pantene ad hits home how overused the phrase is – especially by women. In the opening of the ad, … Continue reading

The Top Ten Best (and Worst) Communicators of 2015

From the power of care and rapport to the sexy baby voice, what can we learn from the new breed leadership sweeping through business, pop culture, politics and sports? Each of the people on the 20th annual list of Top Ten Best and Worst Communicators of 2015 can teach us … Continue reading

Heads Up, Phones Down

When I was at dinner last night, I couldn’t help but notice that everywhere I looked, people were on their phones. At one table, I saw a person talking to someone who was staring at his phone during the whole conversation. With 24/7 access to email, to Facebook, to Twitter, … Continue reading

Go Dark

It’s Thursday morning. You’re sitting in a meeting and trying to read from an overloaded PowerPoint and stay focused on the speaker. With every slide, it seems like more and more is packed onto the screen. Your eyes glaze over. It’s happened again – PowerPoint abuse.  But it doesn’t have … Continue reading

“So” is the new “Um”

You know to avoid “um” and “uh,” but what about “so”? “So” is the newest filler word on the block. It made it on this list of words that can sink a job interview, and NPR calls it a “weasel word” that can make it seem like you’re trying to … Continue reading

What’s Your Mindset?

One of my extracurricular activities for the last four years has been coaching soccer. Now that our team is U9 (nine years old and under, for those of you without kids), I’ve just about reached the final year of my pay grade. Until this point, the biggest difference in the … Continue reading

The 5 White Lies about Communication

All too often, business communication sucks. Why? We’re not willing to look ourselves in the mirror when we’re not cutting it. We tell ourselves little white lies to make us feel like, “Hey, it’s not so bad.” But if you really want to be a better communicator, then it’s time … Continue reading