Archive for the ‘Q&A’ Category

FAQ: About Q&A’s [Part 1]

FAQWhen executives are invited to speak, they are usually asked to take questions after the formal presentation. Q&A sessions are always a little risky, because they are out of your control. You decide exactly what you want say in your speech, but what listeners wants to ask is (usually) their choice. The good news is you can manage that risk and make Q&A time work for you, but only if you prepare. In the next couple blogs, I’ll offer some thoughts on how to do that.

The most obvious way to prepare is to work with staff or friends to try to anticipate possible questions (especially tough ones), come up with good answers, and then learn those answers cold. If you’re writing for an executive, make sure he or she is never “too busy” for that kind of advance work. If you’re the exec, make time to prepare.

At the same time, keep in mind that sharing your knowledge or opinions is only one of the goals of answering audience questions. Another important goal is showing that you’re a leader, someone audience members should take seriously. The best way to do that is to stay calm under pressure.

That’s true even if you’re asked a question that stumps you. Mark Ein, CEO of Venturehouse Group, LLC, a long-time Washington, DC investor and entrepreneur told me the way to handle a stumper is to keep cool, acknowledge that the question is a good one, you don’t have answer right now and but will give it more thought.

Above all, don’t fake it! I guarantee that giving a phony answer will come back to haunt you.

FAQ: How Long Should My Speech Be?


Twenty to thirty minutes. Next question?

But seriously, folks…I strongly recommend to the executives I work with that they limit their remarks to 20 to 30 minutes. If you go longer, my experience has been (and research shows) that audiences start to let their minds wander, even if the speaker is as powerful as Barack Obama or Ronald Reagan.

To be sure, Steve Jobs was a master presenter, and he could keep audiences in the palm of his hand for a couple hours. However, if you look at complete videos of his presentations, you’ll find out that he doesn’t get carried away by the sound of his own voice. He uses video and audio clips. He brings out props to demonstrate, and he brings on other speakers.

Sometimes when I make my plea for brevity, the communications VP will tell me that the event organizers have asked the CEO to speak for “an hour.” My advice is always to keep the prepared remarks under 30 minutes, and fill the remaining time with Q&A. Or pull a Steve Jobs and bring along a great video.

Mind Those Q’s and A’s


As the economy recovers, more capital is becoming available for ventures. But when you walk into a room full of cynical people to ask for money, don’t forget your Q’s & A’s.
That’s the clear message I got when I spoke with successful folks who’ve been on both sides of venture capital pitches.

As Mark Ein, CEO of Venturehouse Group LLC says “I end up learning a lot more once the prepared presentation ends and the dialogue begins.”

In a recent edition of my column in the Washington Business Journal,  “Speaking to Rise,” I share some of the ways Ein and others advise entrepreneurs to prepare themselves to handle questions from potential investors.

One key tip from presentation coach Khris Baxter: “Projecting confidence is key, so whatever question they throw at you, stay calm and cool.”

You can read the rest of the tips here.

How to Pitch to Investors — MIT Forum January 25, 2011

MIT long wayIf you’re in the Washington, DC area this month, you might want to stop by the January meeting of The MIT Enterprise Forum of Washington and Baltimore. My colleague Khris Baxter and I will be will be offering advice on how to get investors to say “yes.”

The session will be very interactive and based on our work with entrepreneurs as well as with experienced pros who have been on both sides of the investor pitch. We’ll begin with a few remarks designed to get the discussion flowing. Then we’ll move on to exercises that allow the participants to try out their pitches, revise them based on feedback, and try again. This will be an interactive, participatory event.

You can get more details and sign up here. I hope to see at the Forum.

Quick Q&A With . . . Sodexo CEO George Chavel

logo_Sodexo_fcI spoke recently with George Chavel, president and CEO of Gaithersburg-based Sodexo North America to get his thoughts on executives’ speeches, for my column in the Washington Business Journal, Speaking to Rise.

What are some of the techniques you use in given a speech or presentation?

GC: One thing I try to do is to illustrate a general point I’m making with a real-life story — something I’ve experienced myself or that I’ve heard about from a colleague. I find if I can relate to a story, I’m more comfortable presenting it, and it is easier for me to connect with an audience.

How do you prepare for a key speech or presentation?

GC: First, I practice, over and over until I’m absolutely comfortable with the timing and the delivery. This is especially important for me because I prefer to use bullet points instead of a word-for-word script. I also make sure to have some of my colleagues — people I can trust to give an honest reaction — listen to the presentation. I’ve even checked with my teenage sons, who I know will tell me what they really think.

How important are speeches and presentations to Sodexo’s communications strategy?

GC:We have a diverse and decentralized work force of 125,000 and 6,000 clients spread over three countries in North America. So we use every communications method and technology. But you can’t operate a service industry without emphasizing face-to-face communication, everything from one-on-one talks with clients to speeches to large groups of employees and suppliers.