How is your small business different from the competition? What kind of service can I expect if I do business with you? You probably routinely get asked these questions or similar ones during new business meetings – in person or over a video conference – and by now you’ve worked out the answers to readily reply. But meetings never follow a script and no doubt you’ve found yourself in situations where you are unprepared for someone’s question. Or you’re with a customer or prospect and the conversation takes an unexpected turn and you can’t think of the right thing to say — so you say nothing or say too much.
Being able to express your thoughts clearly and intelligently when the unexpected happens is a valuable skill for new business, when you’re networking or when you’re negotiating with a potential small business partner or supplier. While some people seem to be natural at thinking on their feet, you easily can adopt a few techniques to help when you find yourself feel at a loss for words – or the right words. While every public speaking coach has suggestions, these are the ones that I have found most useful:
Listen carefully: Be sure that you heard the question accurately. Focus on the speaker and listen and also read body language to understand why the person is asking the question – to test your knowledge or maybe put you on the spot. Understanding the question and the intent helps you better shape your response.
Take a deep breath: Trying to relax may be the hardest thing to do when you under stress. But you will be able to focus better when you take a deep breath, pause and give yourself a few seconds to collect your thoughts.
Repeat the question: You can buy some time by repeating the question. Also when you repeat the question, you give the other person an opportunity to clarify what they want to know to help you better provide an answer. After all, not everyone asks clear questions, which may be part of the reason you’re struggling to respond.
Be brief: Don’t assume the other person is looking for a long dissertation when they ask you a question about your small business. The answer they are looking for may be simple. Generally the first thought that comes to mind is the right answer. Go with it and be brief. If the other person needs more information, they will ask. If they don’t, move on.
Use examples: If you can’t think of the answer you want right away, you probably can think of an example that is appropriate for the question. It may be a sufficient response or help you focus on the response you want to give.
It also helps to be as prepared as possible. Especially when it comes to new business or an important meeting with a customer or client, try to anticipate any and every question that might come up – role play with your team if that helps – and come up with an answer. You’ll feel a lot more confident going into the meeting when you do.