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7 Simple Tricks To Sound Smarter When Answering Difficult Questions

7 Simple Tricks To Sound Smarter When Answering Difficult Questions
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When You Have To Think On Your Feet

You’re a smart, capable person, right? Of course you are. However, we all occasionally face situations in which we are called upon to answer seriously tricky questions. What on earth should you do when you’re asked a question that leaves you stumped? First – try not to panic. Remember that everyone has been in your situation, and you certainly won’t be the last person to feel as though their brain cells have shriveled up and died at a crucial moment. Follow the tips below to help yourself navigate difficult questions.

1. If the question is vague, ask for clarification

Sometimes the fault lies not with you, but with the person asking the question. If you have no idea where to begin answering a question, there is a chance that the person asking it did not choose their words carefully. Politely request that they re-word their statement. For instance if you are asked a question like ‘Where do you see this role heading in the next three years?’ you could quite reasonably identify that as a vague question and ask that the interviewer narrow their focus. You could respond with something like ‘That’s a great question, but I’m not sure where to start! Is there any way you could narrow that question down a little?’ They may then well respond with a new question like ‘How do you think the primary responsibilities will change in response to competitor activity?’ which may seem less daunting!

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2. Define a word or phrase on your own terms

If you are asked a question which includes a term with which you are unfamiliar, it is better to ask for clarification than to risk making an absolute fool of yourself. However, occasionally you may be presented with a question featuring an ‘elastic’ term, and you can use this to your advantage. For instance, suppose you have a job interview in which you are asked to describe the last time you ‘failed’ or ‘made a mistake’ at work, and what you did about it. This can seem like a tricky question. However, you can take it upon yourself to define ‘failed.’ Rather than talk about the time you failed to meet an important deadline, you can elect to describe the time you ‘failed to implement a good work-life balance’ and overworked yourself for the good of the company instead.

3. Remember that your attitude is sometimes just as important as the actual words you use

This is especially useful to remember when it comes to job interviews. Yes, many job interview questions are designed to test how much you actually know about your area of expertise, or how well you will fit into the role. However, reasonable interviewers will not expect you to know the answer to every question imaginable. In fact, sometimes the way you approach the question and your general attitude can count for plenty. If you don’t know the answer, a spirited attempt and frank admission that you don’t have a ready answer will go much further in impressing an interviewer than a nervous, half-hearted response. For example, suppose you are asked how you would envisage working with the Advertising Department if you were given the role of salesperson with a new company. You may not have a clue about what you would do in reality, but talking with enthusiasm about how much you would welcome the challenge to gain new experience in cross-department working will win you some points!

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4. Respond to provocative questions like a pro

Occasionally you may be unlucky enough to be asked inappropriate questions such as, ‘Are you thinking of taking time out the workplace to have children in the near-future?’ It can be hard to know how to respond to such queries. However, assuming you still really want the job, a sensible approach in such a situation is to react in a short, assertive manner (‘No, I am not’) and re-direct their attention towards another topic. For instance, to continue with the above example, your answer could go as follows – ‘No, I am not, as I am determined to use my extensive experience in this field to further my skills in areas X, Y and Z.’

5. Get into the habit of speaking in a measured tone and leaving slight pauses

Sometimes, just a few extra seconds can make all the difference between an acceptable and unacceptable answer. When someone asks you a hard question, look them in the eyes, and allow yourself a brief pause to collect your thoughts. If nothing else, this will make you appear more confident and makes the other party more likely to formulate an image of you as being in control and knowledgeable.

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6. Answer a question with a question

Turning the tables on your questioner can help open up the discussion and sometimes even prevent them pursuing an answer to the original question in the first place. For instance, suppose your child asks you whether you and your spouse are getting divorced. This could be awkward or uncertain territory. By answering a question with a question, you can divert their attention long enough to either buy yourself some time or distract them completely. Asking them questions such as, ‘Why do you ask that?’ can work well in this case.

7. Sharpen your questioner’s focus

If you feel as though your answer to someone’s question isn’t quite all they were hoping for, a good strategy can be to end your answer with a statement or fact that encourages them to ask you follow-up questions that you can answer more readily. For instance, suppose you are asked in a job interview why you are leaving your previous role with another company. Ending your response with ‘…and I have heard many good things about the upcoming sales figures of your company this quarter, and wanted to move to a more prestigious organization’ provides a positive note upon which to move to the next question.

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Whatever the question, remember to always end with a positive statement if possible, preferably one that underlines your great attitude towards the topic at hand, or your expertise. Keep your breathing steady, try and remain smiling, and remember not to beat yourself up if you don’t get it right first time, every time. Like everything else in life, answering difficult questions is a skill that must be practiced.

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Jay Hill

Jay writes about communication and happiness on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)
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You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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