The Art Of Answering Questions

The Art Of Answering Questions

Posted by Jessica Drolet

In an interview-like setting, the question is never as important as the answer. First of all, answers are more likely to be remembered than questions. Second of all, that’s your opportunity to deliver your key messages. Unless you are sitting in court, giving the exact response to a question is an option, not an obligation. Knowing the techniques taught by PR professionals will help you answer all types of questions in various settings, from a panel discussion to an informal chat.

What are key messages?

Key messages are the main points the “audience” should hear and remember. Often written in bullet points, with well-chosen words, they should answer the question “What did you come here to say?” The fewer and simpler, the better. They are useful for media interviews, but also structuring a speech, handling objections, Q&A’s, and impromptu conversations.

Answering obvious questions

Everyone has been asked an obvious question at some point in time. If it may be tempting to laugh and ignore them, most questions offer an opportunity to exceed expectations, even negative ones. Awkward moments can and should be avoided.

Recommended technique: Providing more information

We all have something to learn from the Cast Members at Disney World who are often asked “At what time is the 3 o’clock parade?” by distracted guests. Instead of answering “3 o’clock…duh!”, they share further information, such as the time the parade will pass by certain locations or the best spots to view the parade from. It may take more effort to answer the question that way, but respect will most definitely arise from a well-thought answer like that and a nice tone of voice.

Answering difficult questions

Having enough knowledge on the subject is necessary to answer a difficult question, but delivering that information in a poised and strategic manner is equally important. Different opinions and language barriers can make this even more challenging.

Technique 1: Taking your time and clarifying

First of all, take the necessary amount of time to answer a difficult question. Many people fear silence, but it’s better to think and deliver a good response than answer right away and be too emotional or forget details.

If a question is vague, clarify it or define a specific term before answering. This will save you from embarrassment. You can also ask the person to do so, giving them a chance to ask you a better question.

Technique 2: Using a funnel

If there are certain aspects of the question you are less comfortable with, focus on one aspect. You can use words like ‘specifically’, ‘actually’ or ‘particularly’.

Technique 3: Building a bridge

This technique can be handy when you’re presented with off-topic queries. The goal is to bridge to your key messages as smoothly as possible. To do this, look for a logical pivot point. You can also use the famous “I’m glad you mention this because I actually wanted to talk about…”. This technique should be used with caution though.

Technique 4: The CCO method

When you answer a question with a high level of emotion or outrage, break it down in three parts using Compassion, Conviction and Optimism. For example: “Have you made a decision regarding our job offer?”

  1. Compassion: Use compassion to temporarily short-circuit the emotional reaction.
    • “Your team is wonderful, I feel blessed to have met all of you all and to have been presented with this offer. This was a difficult decision to make.”
  2. Conviction: Address the real subject, the decision, the reality, the action.
    • “I have decided not to accept your offer and take Company X’s offer instead, as it is more aligned with my long-term career goals. I will be in charge of X, Y, Z, etc.”
  3. Optimism: Without promising or guarantying anything, show optimism. This is the “Tomorrow is a better day” part.
    • “The person who will take on this role is lucky. I hope we have the chance to collaborate in the near future. Thank you again for your time and for understanding my decision.”


When you answer a question, you also show who you are and how you handle pressure.

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