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No, this has little to do with your content (that's up to you) and everything to do with the gut feeling the audience gets about your response in the first three seconds. Yes, three. Here's the method.

Start your answer with a yes, a no, or a one-phrase sentence - and then explain

Why is that important? Because audiences go with gut feeling long before they evaluate your completed answer. When you start with an assertive yes, no, or short sharp sentence, you generate the feeling that you're honest and credible and know what you're talking about.

Here are some examples - each would be followed by your explanation:

For closed yes/no questions:

Yes it is.
Not always.
Yes, in part.
No, not so.
It's not a yes-no answer.
It's more complicated than that.

For open how/why questions:

I don't know yet.
By checking with Bill.
That will be your decision.
Because they had to.
We had no choice.
Because it works.

Even the sentence, "I don't know," carries credibility for being honest and straight forward. It might be followed by, "Come and have a chat afterwards." Or by, "And I should. Thank you, I'll find out."

Of course your tone is important. A defensive tone will undermine the method. Even admissions of error and apologies should be delivered assertively - never defensively.

Now, here's the opposite. (I heard this on a current affairs programme)

Questioner: "Minister, didn't you promise that this would be announced in March?"
Minister: "Well when you consider the complexity of the process and the fact that it had to go before two different select committees, and then of course we had to go to half the district councils in the south island, which had it's own challenges (etc, etc, etc)."

We think weasel words. We think, another lying politician - even if it was an honest answer.

But what if the minister had started with a very short assertive sentence. "Yes, I did. And I could not deliver because it was more complex than I expected. It had to go before..." etc. Much more credibility.

The yes/no/short sentence method has two bonuses. It makes the audience listen more carefully to what follows. And it gives you momentum so that the words come more easily - you'll feel in better control.

Practise on friends or colleagues. Ask them to ask you questions and get their reaction. You'll never go back to turning your answers into mystery novels.

Enjoy.

Michael

About Michael Brown

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Michael is a senior trainer with Skillset, based in Christchurch.

He is a leading authority on training in presentation and news media skills in New Zealand. He has special expertise in how to present emotionally charged topics to challenging audiences. Michael has trained thousands of New Zealanders and worked with people who speak on behalf of some of the country's largest organisations.

Michael is a prolific author and his books on speaking and working with the media are in their fourth editions.

Speaking Easy: how to speak to your audiences with confidence and authority

Media Easy: how to handle the news media with confidence and authority

One of Michael's books is about his family's adventures sailing in the Pacific.

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