Justin Patton

4 Effective Q&A Strategies Used During the GOP Debate

4 Effective Q&A Strategies Used During the GOP Debate

One question I am constantly asked while coaching sales associates and leaders is how to manage an effective question & answer session with an audience. So after watching the CNN GOP debate on November 22, I decided to highlight four key Q&A lessons that will benefit all presenters.

Now I can’t write any blog without incorporating two of my passions: body language and celebrity blunders. So READERS BEWARE: we’ll be talking about sausage-fingers and goldfish.

Lesson #1: Keep Your Answers Succinct

First things first! Didn’t Newt’s momma teach him never to point those itty-bitty SAUSAGE-FINGERS at people? From a leadership perspective, this gesture is too assertive and people often perceive this as being talked down to. I know Gingrich is passionate about what he’s saying but he needs to consider how he is being perceived.

Remember Newt: people will never remember what you say, but they always remember how you made them feel. You can still come across as confident and collaborative by using open palm gestures and other positive emblem gestures: ok symbol, thumbs up. And if all else fails, take a lesson from Bill Clinton who coined the famous hand nod with the thumb tucked because he couldn’t stop pointing at people.

In regards to Newt’s ability to answer Q&A, his answers are pretty succinct and he generally addresses them head-on. This skill allows him to come across as more knowledgeable than many of the other candidates (whether that’s true or not). And frankly…unlike some of his peers, he does not drown the listener in a lot of right-brain garble. All leaders, politicians, sales people can learn a key lesson here: Keep Your Answers Succinct.


Lesson #2: Never Answer Until You’re 100% Certain of What’s Being Asked

So Cain demonstrated a lot of good qualities but let me start with the one that I can’t wait to get off my chest…WHAT’S UP WITH THE BLINKERS? I mean, I get it…anytime we as humans are under stress our blinking rate tends to increase but all his blinking is about to send me into a seizure. Additionally, Cain comes across as “intoxicatingly serious” and I would recommend that he find ways to humanize himself to the American people. Whomever is coaching Mr. Cain should tell him to smile just a little more in these debates (when appropriate).

On the other hand, Cain personified a Q&A best practice when he stated, “I didn’t quite get the question” and asked Wolf Blitzer to repeat it. Anyone in this situation should do exactly the same thing. Never, and I repeat NEVER, attempt to answer a question until you’re 100% certain of the question being asked. One of the last impressions you want to leave people with is, “He/She wasn’t listening.” Watch Herman Cain During Q&A 


Lesson #3: Answer the Question Head-On, Don’t Be Evasive

I wish I had the opportunity to coach Mr. Huntsman on responding to Q&A. He’s a very bright, articulate man; however, he is trying too hard to show the American people how smart he is instead of just answering the questions first. For example, when asked, “Would an expanded drone campaign in Pakistan be sufficient to defeat Al Qaeda,” Huntsman talked for over a minute on how we need a Washington that works, a President that can lead, and how we needed to get our house in order. I can tell you something that’s not working and that’s his Q&A skills. GET BACK TO THE BASICS OF Q&A: Answer the question directly before spinning into the problem and how you plan to remedy the situation for the American people.

It took Huntsman over 1 minute to simply say, “I do support an extended drone campaign” and within that time his message was buried beneath the rumble of his other points. By not answering questions directly, listeners perceive presenters as evasive which can translate to a lack of trust.


Lesson #4: Give a Little R. E. S. P. E. C. T

Let me start with the positive. First, I think one of the best things a presenter/leader can do after an “Oops!” incident is “own” it and then use a little “self-deprecating” humor. In my opinion, Perry’s ability to laugh at himself over the last couple weeks has humanized him a little more to the public.

Now in regards to his body language, I just kept saying, “Oops! You did it again…” and then I would imagine Aretha Franklin waddling up on stage to give Perry a DIVA performance of, “R. E. S. P. E. C. T.” As a fellow southerner, I was a little taken back by the lack of “southern hospitality.” I mean, I have experienced more animation and eye contact from my pet goldfish than Perry gave during the debate when his peers were talking.

So the take-away for any presenter or leader is to always turn your body (not just your head) to the person talking and show respect/empathy by maintaining eye contact, active listening, and maybe even the slightest head nod (if appropriate). Remember: the feet are the most honest part of the body and will point in the direction most interested so just turning your head doesn’t fool anyone but yourself! And Perry, if you ever happen to read this…remember: we want Goldfish, not Frankensteins!

What Q&A tips do you have?

Follow me on twitter @bodylitics for more tips on communication and body language skills.

Justin Patton