Secrets for Q&A Success

Speaking in front of a live audience can be terrifying. Not only do you have to prepare and present talking points to keep the people engaged, but you will likely have to answer questions at the end.

Sometimes Q&A provides insightful commentary and allows you to talk more in-depth about an issue; other times, you field a filibuster and/or hostile questions you’d rather not answer.

It’s a risky situation, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself and the audience.

Here’s what we suggest:

Step #1: Set ground rules. You might think this is an unnecessary and condescending step, because who doesn’t know how to handle themselves during Q&A?? Turns out, a lot of people.

Before you take the first question, explain that you will only respond to questions (NOT comments), and the questions need to be brief to allow as many people as possible to participate.

Step #2: Don’t follow Justin Trudeau’s lead.


We get it, Q&A is unscripted and less formal. Anything can happen! But a joke or petty correction that leaves you apologizing days later means it was better left unsaid.

Even if you disagree with the premise of the question, or the words/phrases used, don’t insult the asker. Kindly reframe the question, and then block and bridge to the response you want to give.

Now, go rock that Q&A.

How to avoid speculation

Much has been made about the timing of a big legislative victory for Republicans before the 2018 midterms. Will tax reform be that victory?

President Trump certainly hopes so – remember that one time he asked for a bill by Thanksgiving?

Because no one knows for sure what will happen or when, you’re left to speculate if asked about a timeline. But don’t give in!

Here’s how we recommend you respond. Hint: remain hopeful.

Q: “Will the GOP get tax reform done by the end of the year?”

A: “I can’t speculate on a timeline, but I am hopeful that Americans will finally get a tax break. <Insert talking point.>”

Wherever you take the conversation next, emphasize all the reasons you think tax reform should pass, not whether it will pass. And remain hopeful in your response. Tax reform is a good and necessary move, and we want to emphasize that message whenever we’re asked about it.

 

TUESDAY TIP: How to talk tax reform

The Republican’s tax reform bill entered the markup process in the House Ways and Means Committee yesterday. Given that passage of this bill would lead to the largest change in the tax code since 1986, this is a BFD.

With every tax reform discussion, the talking points write themselves. The Left cries about a tax cut for the rich, while conservatives support the idea that more money in the hands of job creators leads to…more jobs.

This attempt is no different. The current proposal to lower the corporate tax rate from 35% (The highest in the developed world! Higher than France!) to 20% is significant, and has ignited the aforementioned class warfare discussion.

(FUN FACT: Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer were all too happy to champion a cut in the corporate tax rate a few short years ago.) 

So, how can you fight false rhetoric when advocating for corporate tax reform?

Don’t let the other side define the premise. They will always use words and phrases like: “big business,” “corporation,” and “the rich,” even if the majority of people who stand to benefit from the tax cut don’t fall into these categories. For those of us who own small businesses and know how to operate a calculator (like DMG!), we know that the “corporate” and/or “big business” labels don’t define us.

Words matter, so make sure you talk about “small businesses,” “start-ups,” or “family-owned companies” to paint an accurate picture of who will benefit from this tax cut.

TUESDAY TIP: Don’t be like Phil Davison.

It’s one of our favorite political campaign speeches EVER. Not because it’s great, but because it’s so incredibly awful.

So while we suffer through the last two weeks of a few ho-hum campaigns (ahem, VA), we thought we’d remember more exciting times. Like the times of Phil Davison…

Phil Davison, a Republican running for Stark County Treasurer in Ohio, delivered this impassioned speech before a vote for nomination to the office. What starts out as a run-of-the-mill candidacy speech, quickly escalates to full out screaming. Perhaps even more entertaining than the sudden escalation of emotion and volume are the times his outbursts seem uncontrollable.

“AND A MASTER’S DEGREE IN COMMUNICATION.”

“I WILL NOT APOLOGIZE FOR MY TONE TONIGHT.”

“THIS IS THE OPPORTUNITY WE’VE BEEN WAITING FOR.”

While Phil offers us endless entertainment, there’s a fairly obvious lesson to be learned about emotion and volume when speaking in public or in your media interviews. Emotion is great. It connects you to your audience, makes you seem more approachable, and keeps people tuned in. However, when you turn your performance switch “on,” make sure slow and steady wins the race. Avoid the zero to 60 approach, unless you want to end up on CNN or the Washington Post’s “best political rants of all time” list.

Trump, Twitter, and You

Twitter has been the hallmark of Donald Trump’s communication style from the beginning of his presidential campaign until now. The likelihood that he’ll suddenly log off is laughable, especially as we’ve watched him receive overwhelming coverage for recent statements.

But as the Trump administration moves forward, his tweets will only increase in importance. (READ: midterm elections, relationship with North Korea, tax reform success, etc.)

If you haven’t fielded a question yet about his social media presence, you probably will…and soon.

So, how do you keep the conversation focused on your message instead of the world’s most famous Twitter account?

Here’s our suggestion for how to navigate:

Q: “What do you think about <insert latest tweet>?”

A: “I’ll let the TV pundits and communications experts hash out the effectiveness of his Twitter strategy, but when it comes to <insert talking point>.”

By focusing on the substance of the policy behind the tweet, you can sidestep the semantics for the most important thing: the issue. Don’t fall prey to arm-chair quarterbacking the tweet itself, focus on substance and you’ll make better use of your 30 seconds to clearly deliver your message.

TUESDAY TIP: Pocket Man

Last Tuesday, President Trump made his General Assembly appearance before the United Nations.

What most will remember is Trump’s designation of KJU as “Rocket Man.” An apt nickname for the North Korean despot who can’t quit launching missiles at the good guys. (For more about why DMG loved this nickname, click here.)

But something else happened that caught DMG’s eye: he wore a pocket square. This was the first time (in recent memory) that President Trump wore a pocket square when speaking in public.

The addition of the pocket square highlighted how Trump dressed for the event and the audience—something we encourage our clients to do as well.

Day-to-day, when talking to hardworking Americans, Trump doesn’t wear a pocket square because he wants to seem relatable: Most average Americans don’t wear pocket squares!

We also discourage our clients from wearing pocket squares for this same reason, especially if talking about minimum wage increases or “income inequality.”

But Trump was addressing world leaders, and the pocket square added a level of seriousness to his presentation.

Remember to do the same in your TV interviews. Follow Trump’s lead and dress for the audience. 

(Bradley) Chelsea Manning & Emojis

Bradley Chelsea Manning is in the news again.

Not for leaking 750,000 classified military docs to WikiLeaks and being court-martialed, but for the awkward acceptance to and very quick dismissal from an esteemed Harvard fellowship.

Manning took to Twitter to voice disbelief and outrage with the help of 17,000 emojis.

Don’t get us wrong, DMG loves a well-timed emoji. As they become more mainstream, using emojis in your online message can be a great way to emphasize your statement.

But it’s a careful balance. The setting matters, and you’re doing it wrong if you use more emojis than words to communicate a serious message.

Manning’s over-use of emjois weakened the “I should be a Harvard fellow” message, and legitimized Harvard’s decision to revoke the fellowship.

A good rule of thumb for you and your online communication? When you use more emojis than words, you’re not communicating.

TUESDAY TIP: How Not to Apologize

Hillary Clinton’s latest book drops today, but we’ve already been blessed with various audio samples and memes.

The content is no surprise – Hillary takes very little credit and passes most of the blame to Trump, Sanders, Comey, Putin, etc. IT’S NOT HER FAULT, ok?

Except most Americans believe she is to blame for certain things, like that pesky email server. So let’s take a minute to review Hillary’s un-apologies and suggest a better way forward. It’s a case study in what not to do.

Email Server

Hillary’s un-apology: “Mostly, I was furious at myself. It was a dumb mistake. But an even dumber ‘scandal.'”

So close, Hillary! So close. A better response would’ve been…

“Mostly, I was furious at myself. It was a dumb mistake, and I’m deeply sorry for my oversight. But I’m thankful for the lessons I’ve learned…”

Admit fault, total and complete fault, and focus on the future and what you’ve learned. You may think it’s a dumb scandal, but a lot of people disagree. Just apologize and move on.

“Deplorables”

Hillary’s un-apology: “I regret handing Trump a political gift with my ‘deplorables’ comment…[I’m sorry that people] misunderstood me to be criticizing all Trump voters.”

So, you’re not sorry for calling Trump supporters a nasty name. But rather, you’re sorry they misunderstood your intentions?

Help us, help you, Hillary. An actual apology sounds like:

“I regret calling Trump supporters deplorable. American voters are hard-working, well-intentioned people who contribute to this great nation. I’m thankful to live in a country where we can disagree on political issues, but still enjoy the freedom to do so.”

DO NOT alienate a segment of the voting population by calling them names. You may need their support in four years.

In case you ever have to make a public apology, here’s how we suggest you do it:

1. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. DO NOT follow Hillary Clinton’s lead.

2. Admit fault – total and complete – and promise to do better in the future.

People just want an apology. If you attempt to pass blame, it weakens your apology.

TUESDAY TIP: Are you ready for some football??

As the NFL season kicks off on Thursday, we recommend you take a brief timeout from your fantasy draft to craft a few talking points. Why?

Thanks to ESPN’s commentator-gate, the increasing regularity of National Anthem protests, and Colin Kaepernick’s free agency, football is no longer a politics-free zone, which means you should anticipate a question or two in your media interviews. Are you ready?

Here’s this week’s likely question and the B² (block and bridge) that sets the narrative straight:

Q: “Do you think NFL athletes should be applauded for making a statement by kneeling for the National Anthem?”

B²: “I agree that these are important conversations to have. And while football players have the right to stand or kneel, I don’t think the football field is the most effective place to discuss these issues. <Insert talking point.>”

Wherever you take the conversation next, first acknowledge the importance of the conversation, but reiterate that kneeling in protest during the National Anthem might not be the most effective solution.

3 things to consider (and avoid) before you go on live TV

Last week was a study in what happens when props fail, both in public presentations and media interviews.

Props can be a great addition to help make your point, but please proceed with caution. You risk more by using the prop than not, so here are three things to consider (and avoid) before you go on live TV:

1. Use spell check! This floor poster made us LOL.

Last week, Sen. Maria Cantwell (now referred to as “Sen. Cantspell”) was trying to make a point against the Republican health care bill, yet forgot to spell check her prop. #YouHadOneJob

2. Props should never make an appearance in media interviews, and Kellyanne Conway proved why. Though she was using her flash cards to clear up confusion about the Russia saga, it didn’t seem to have the intended effect.

(We’re confused. We don’t understand.)

But also, the signs were a distraction from her main message. Instead of listening to what she said, we tuned her out to watch as she awkwardly broke the frame to pull the signs into the shot. When you have to pull props into a live shot, you’re doing it wrong.

3. Don’t be the punchline. Beware of any potential for a screen shot to be made into a meme. We saw this happen to President Trump when he lifted up a copy of a just-signed executive order. The prop took on a life of its own, not only creating memes, but also a meme generator.