Entrepreneurs spend hours, weeks, even months perfecting their pitch. Whether to an audience of potential customers or investors, an entrepreneur's pitch takes time and consideration in order to fashion a presentation that is engaging, captivating and alluring. But in all this preparation, entrepreneurs often forget one very big preparation.
The pitch is about 50 percent of a presentation (even less, depending on who you ask). The Q&A portion makes up the other 50 percent. As Nathan Gold, our Founders School expert and demo coach, told us last month during his Founders School LIVE event, "entrepreneurs must prepare for both sides of the presentation conversation." So this week we're tackling the side less prepared with three ways to properly respond to Q&A.
Repeat and Answer
We’ve all witnessed it. Someone in an audience asks a question, the presenter responds, and the audience member follows it with “well, that wasn’t really what I was asking.” Don’t get caught in this trap. Repeat the question before you answer. Whether this is a rephrasing or just repetition, weave it into your answer. It not only clarifies that you’re going to answer the question you think is asked, but also lets everyone else in the audience know what was asked, if the crowd should be bigger than just a few participants. Nathan says it’s also good to verify after you’ve given your answer that you actually did answer the question posed, and there isn’t any lingering confusion—especially if it’s a two or three part question. A simple, “did I answer your question?” will suffice.
Make Use of Your Stories
The Q&A portion of a pitch is the prime spot for you to use stories to illustrate your answer. It’s a personable, relatable technique that allows you to provide a little more detail in your answers. It also allows you to work in any other information that your 30 second, two minute, or 10 minute pitch wouldn’t allow. To figure out how to pick the right story for a certain situation or answer, check out Craig Wortmann’s series Entrepreneurial Selling: Your Story Matrix. Using stories in your answers will also break up the robotic question-answer-question-answer routine that can sometimes occur. Just using a simple, “Well, that questions brings up an interesting story…” can help to break up the monotony and further engage your audience on the journey through which you’re leading them.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Unknown
It’s okay to answer a question with an “I don’t know”. I know this seems like an unproductive tip to give in a list of tips that are supposed to make you a master of the Q&A Jedi mind game. But the reality is, at some point—no matter how good you are—you will receive a question you don’t know the answer to. So instead of being dumbfounded by this fact, learn to own it. If this situation should happen, don’t try to fake your way through it with a smoke and mirrors act. Nathan notes this is especially true with investors. Don’t lie. Don’t make things up. They will find out. Instead, be okay with saying you don’t know the answer. And you don’t have to stand there dunce-like saying it. There’s a multitude of ways to say, “I don’t know”. “You know, I’m not sure, let me get back to you on that.” It doesn’t mean you’re a failure. In fact, it means you’re secure enough in your business to understand there are still limitations to your knowledge, and you’re willing to take ownership of that. [Side note: Do keep the idk’s to a minimum. If it’s every other question, it’s obvious you haven’t properly prepared for this session or don’t really know your business model.] Stay calm, keep your composure and honestly answer the question with an earnest desire to search out the answer for their benefit.
I’ve seen even the best pitch crumble under a poor Q&A performance. Don’t be caught on the wrong end of this mistake. You’ll need both sides of the dialogue to create a fully productive and efficient conversation with your audience. Prepare your pitch. Practice your Q&A with the toughest questions you can think of, and then practice again.