The latest Republican political debate had one major surprise: Donald Trump didn’t talk for a 28 minute stretch. It also had one key teaching point for anyone who does a question and answer session in presentation: Start your answer where the question ends, not where you want. Carly Fiorina made this mistake a couple of times. When asked a question by one of the moderators, she began with, “I want to go back to…” Whoa. That’s not have Q & A sessions work. Someone asks a question. You answer the question. Not, someone asks a question, you grandstand on whatever topic you feel like talking about.
It’s natural to want to speak about issues and topics you are most comfortable and passionate about. That’s human nature. But in order to do that you have to begin your answer where the question ends and then take it in the direction of your preferred topic. That’s the artful way of handling it. If during a Q & A session—regardless of whether it’s a political debate or at the end of a sales pitch—some asks you a question and you begin your answer on a different topic that creates a credibility gap, a gap that leaves the audience feeling like you dodged something.
Begin your answer where the question ends and then take it in the direction of your choosing. If you completely ignore the question, don’t be surprised if the audience decides to ultimately ignore you too.