A guide to the P.E.A.C.E. process for Fielding Curveball Questions
You’ve spent hours, days, maybe even weeks on an important presentation. You know your content, the slide deck looks professional, but when it comes to the thought of the Q&A session, specifically the thought of those curly, curveball, complex questions, you start to feel way less confident, the butterflies emerge and you’re maybe feeling a little sick. Familiar scenario?
It’s a Self-protection Strategy
Even as a seasoned presenter and speaker I used to get the collywobbles (very English word for ‘jitters’!) when asked to finish my session with a Q&A. I’d be inundated and bombarded with the ‘What If’s?’ incessant self-talk. “What if I don’t know the answer and look stupid? What if they strongly disagree? What if they try and disguise a comment or criticism as a question?” To be completely honest, I’d often deliberately overrun, apologise for taking up Q&A time and offer to be available during the break. NOT very professional.
The role of our brain is to keep us safe (Evian Gordon 2000), it’s a brilliant prediction machine, continually anticipating what’s going to happen next. It’s what kept us alive and also what puts us into a state of ‘threat’ when faced with an uncertain experience at the end of our presentation. All of a sudden, those friendly colleagues, bosses or clients can turn into the arch enemy! ‘Foe’ before ‘friend’ was the caveperson’s mantra that kept them alive and today presents itself as an unconscious bias.
Introducing the P.E.A.C.E. Process
When I was working with my coaching clients, I unpacked what it is that I now do to manage my emotional reaction and the strategies I use to handle ‘difficult’ questions and came up with the P.E.A.C.E. process, an acronym for:-
Prepare, Engage, Acknowledge, Clarify, Embrace
The P.E.A.C.E. process is also a metaphor for being at peace with yourself and making peace with your audience when presenting and being at peace with the whole question and answer process.
Below is a brief description of each element of the model. If you want to learn more about this process and the strategies, please get in touch and I will send you a comprehensive e-book. Go to the contact page on this website and either complete the form or email me directly (email address on the page)
Each of the points outlined below is expanded upon in the eBook.
We invest a lot of time and energy on the content and flow of the presentation; we often think less about questions that might result from what we’re delivering. Being prepared around the topic of questions can save a lot of strife and improve your presentation quality. Here are some key considerations:-
• Take Control of Question Time
• Factor enough Time for Questions
• Prepare through Breathing
• Notice your Self-talk
• Walk in their shoes – develop your Empathy
• Know the different Personalities in the Room
• Anticipate and Embed potential Questions or Objections
It stands to reason that if our minds are focused on the Q&A, we can’t be fully present and engaged during our presentation. Making a good connection from the outset and engaging your audience in your content is an effort that repays itself exponentially, so when it comes to Q&A time, everyone is feeling more settled, safe and comfortable.
• Learn, remember and use Names
• ‘Read the Room’
• Envision Success
Acknowledging a question from your audience, no matter how curly, serves two key purposes, 1) it shows respect to the questioner, acknowledging that they have taken the trouble to listen and formulate a question, even a loaded one or a veiled criticism and 2) when we choose to view questions as a form of curiosity, interest or engagement, we lower our defences and this will show in our body language, especially posture and voice. I provide examples of how to acknowledge a question in the eBook.
Asking for clarification or more detail on the questions being asked benefits both parties. It gives you time to focus, pay attention and listen to the questioner and it gives the questioner an opportunity to rephrase or reframe their question if appropriate.
Asking for more detail also ensures that you are answering the right question as, if you have misunderstood, you could be mismatching the questioner and causing frustration not clarity. More than anything, you want to avoid that awkward moment when the questioner says, “that’s not what I asked”! For examples of asking for clarification, please download the eBook.
When you think about it, what better state of mind to be in than embracing the whole process of curveball questions! We can choose to see questions as clever ways to try and trip us up or we can choose to see them as avenues to create opportunities for better communication, clarity and resolution. Here are some of the key points covered in more detail in the eBook:-
- Reframing the concept of ‘difficult’
- The Power of the Pause
- Responding versus Reacting
- Responding when your answer is “No”
- Examples of responding without saying “No”
- Answering when you don’t know the Answer!
- Use of Humour
- Fielding Negative Comments and Criticism
- Tips for Dealing with Negativity
There are 101 ways to skin a cat (apologies to cat lovers, it’s a metaphor!) and I’m sure you’ll find what’s comfortable for you in time.
If you can see questions as part and parcel of a presentation, as a sign that people are interested or missing information and view them as an opportunity for you to develop your skills of communication and rapport building, it can change your approach to presenting as you gain confidence and present with gravitas. The only way to build your skill and confidence in fielding ‘interesting’ questions is to give it a go. The more you experience it, the easier it gets.
And remember, we don’t want to get rid of those butterflies because nervousness is a form of energy; we just need to get them flying in formation!
If you receive the eBook and gain benefit from it, the best way to spread the news would be to encourage others to sign up to BrainBuzz via the website homepage and get their free copy.
This process forms part of our presentation skills program Speak UP! Presenting with Confidence, Clarity & Control. Download the flyer here
Additional Free Resources
Since the last edition of BrainBuzz we have added a number of free eBooks on various topics that you can access here
If you are interested in the Art of Science of storytelling for business, communication or professional development, you can access a number of resources here