As an Internal Communications professional, sometimes, you are tasked with running leadership Q&As during town hall meetings or as stand-alone ‘Ask Me Anything’ sessions.
And you want to get it right. But you don’t know what questions you will get, so you want your executive leaders to be geared up for success.
To help you brief your executives and prepare them for what might come up, here are some essential tips you can give them, gathered from experienced IC professionals.
Prepare for the Q&A in advance
- Start collecting questions before your meeting starts. You can do that most effectively with Q&A tools like Slido. Your employees will have time to formulate their questions and you’ll have more time to think about your responses.
- Once you’ve got some questions in, prepare the answers and key points with the comms team.
Answer the most relevant questions first
- To identify the most burning issues, remind people to upvote the questions they want answered the most.
- When you’re on stage, address the most popular questions first. Giving people the power to decide will make the Q&A more democratic and help the employees to feel that their voices were heard.
Stay calm, respectful and empathetic
- When you get a critical question, try to avoid getting defensive. Showing irritation might discourage people from asking further.
- Instead, stay calm and show empathy. Try to understand the why behind each question.
- Respond respectfully, even if you find the question irrelevant or uninteresting. It will make people feel valued and part of the conversation.
Ask for clarification if you don’t understand a question
- When you are not sure that you understand the question, ask for clarification. You can simply say, “Please, can someone elaborate? I’m not sure I understand this question.”
- If you allow your employees to submit questions anonymously, you can say, “Please, can you clarify your question? Feel free to send it via Slido if you want to stay anonymous.”
- In case no one wants to elaborate, repeat the question in your own words and say what you think it means before responding. Echoing to the audience what you think they are saying will make them feel heard and give you time to formulate your answer.
Explain the context and rationale behind your answers
- Don’t just give a one-word answer to yes-no questions (“Can our product do this?” or “Are we going to hire more people this year?”). Always provide some context.
- For instance, explain the initial idea and how you got to where you are. It will give your employees a better understanding of the rationale behind important decisions and help you get their buy-in.
If you don’t have an answer, be straight about it
- When you don’t know how to answer a question, be honest about it. Your credibility will stay intact if you acknowledge your limitations. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know how to answer this right now; let me get back to you.”
- If the question requires time to analyze because of its complexity, ask for it. Explain why you need more time and set out the steps you need to take to provide an answer.
- Alternatively, ask the person accountable for the project or area to address the matter if he or she is at the meeting. If you received the question before the meeting, give the person a heads up so that he or she can prepare the answer.
Be transparent if you can’t give an answer on a confidential matter
- Sometimes, you might get questions about a confidential matter. In such cases, instead of vaguely dodging the question, explain that it is confidential and why it is so.
- In case the information has to stay unrevealed for some time before you can share it internally, be frank and say, “We can’t share this yet but we will give you all the information as soon as we can over the coming weeks.”
Reiterate your answers to duplicate questions instead of dismissing them
- If you get questions that seem to be repetitive, don’t simply dismiss them. They might be asking about nuances that you might have skipped before or need further clarification.
- Instead of ignoring them, read each question thoroughly and if needed, reiterate your previous answer.
- Then check if the audience is satisfied with your response and give your employees a chance to react. It will show them that you care.
Follow up on the unanswered questions afterward
- When you get too many questions to answer during one session, your comms team can help you follow up with answers after the meeting. It will give you a chance to provide more elaborate responses and ensure no question is left unanswered.
- Ask your team to download all the questions after the meeting and provide your answers. If needed, ask the relevant people in the company to contribute their updates.
- After the meeting, your team can share the answers with employees on Slack, company intranet or by email. This way, you will ensure everyone in the company can access the information, even if they were not present at the meeting.
Over to you
When handled well, the Q&A can be the most valuable part of your town hall meeting for both the leadership and employees. Use these tips to gear up your executives to help them nail their next Q&A session.