The hidden meanings behind the Q&A

James Douglass
President Trump Holds News Conference In East Room Of White House
Source: Getty

You've finished your presentation. You remembered to look at the audience, rather than at the massive screen behind you, so it actually seemed like a presentation rather than a modern corporate version of temple worship.

You didn’t just read out the slide deck, so no one is wondering why you bothered with a presentation at all, instead of just sending an email.

You had energy and enthusiasm, so even though the topic was a bit dry, everyone assumed that if you were that excited about it, perhaps there was something to your project after all.

You had three main points. It had one good verbal joke, a little self-deprecating, and one visual one. It contained a slightly off-the-wall fact no one knew, which performed the dual purpose of making everyone think you were far more expert than you secretly are, and giving them something to talk about afterwards. Amazingly, the technology worked.

And now it’s time for questions.

Most questions are fine as long as you either know the answer or couldn’t possibly be expected to – so that it’s totally acceptable to say “I don’t have the details of that one to hand but I’ll dig them out and send them to you”. But some questions don’t quite mean what they say, and it’s worth being able to spot them, so you that can respond to what is actually being said – or not.

Here are the main types.

Could you tell me a bit more about…

“I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening when you did this bit. Could you repeat it so I don’t look stupid later?” If you’re the person asking this question, you’ll earn the silent gratitude of at least a third of the room, who were also daydreaming, checking emails, browsing Ebay, or messing about on Twitter.

How much will this cost?

If the person asking this works in the finance department, this means “how much will this cost?”. If they don’t, it means “I hate this project”.

I was wondering if this could work in conjunction with…

“…my project. Mine. The one I’m doing. It’s better than yours. Could everyone look at me for a bit?”

This is probably a stupid question, but…

Nine times out of 10, this will indeed be a stupid question. The tenth, it will force you to question the fundamentals of life, the universe and everything. Or at least the project.

This isn’t a question, more a comment…

“I find I tire of the harsh, strange, discomforting sound of other people’s voices, and long for the soothing familiarity of my own.”

Have you considered…

If your presentation has been competent, it will be very obvious whether you have considered. So this usually translates as “I am showing off”. Unless your boss is asking it.

Questions they read in a book

You’ll know these because they’re either couched in corporate-speak that no actual human would ever use (“Do we have the bandwidth to be agnostic here or is there a disconnect?”) or are hideously generic (“But is this scalable?” “Not really, Derek, it’s a lavatory”). Smile and nod.

Of course, at some point you’ll be the one asking the questions. You can make yourself a friend for life by throwing the presenter an absolute gift, even more so if it’s disguised as a “tough” question.

A favourite is “It looks like there could be some difficulties implementing this – what do you think the main one would be?”. This clearly translates as “Tell us again how clever you are”. Who doesn’t love answering that?