Even though the next presidential election is not until November 2012, November 2011 has been an interesting month of the continuing presidential campaign. This is not so much for the successes of the candidates, but for some notable missteps, or as one candidate aptly put it, some “oops” moments.
Texas Governor Rick Perry couldn’t recall the third of three agency’s he would eliminate as President. Herman Cain drew an obvious blank when asked how his position on Libya conformed or contrasted with that of the President. In fairness to Mssrs. Perry and Cain, no one is immune from drawing blanks from time-to-time, especially in high-stakes situations like presidential debates. Fairly or not, every word is analyzed as much for how
they can be used against candidates as for them. That is just the nature of politics in America in 2011.
The two situations offer learning opportunities for anyone being interviewed by the media, or responding to questions following a presentation. No one is immune from an occasional lapse of memory or failure to recall certain points, especially in pressure situations. So, how does one handle those situations when they present themselves? There are a few steps
that can help minimize their occurrence, and mitigate their impact when they do occur.
Avoid Specific Numbers – By this I mean avoiding citing a specific number of items, steps,
reasons, etc. For example, if you respond to a question asking why your company
is taking an action, do not begin the response with “There are four reasons. The first is ….” You go on to cite the second and third reasons, but like Governor Perry, you cannot recall the final item. Having cited “four reasons” the audience knows you are one short. Instead, respond with “There are several reasons. The first is…” This way, even if you
had four in mind and draw a blank on one, no one knows you are short one…even
Transist To What You Do Know – In situations where you are unable to respond with specifics that a question may call for, respond with what you do know. For example, “I don’t have the specific detail that you’re asking for, but here is what I can tell you…” While the ideal may to be to cite specifics, the suggested response will mitigate the fact you do not have
certain details and help you avoid being caught flat-footed.
Prepare for Issues, Not Just Questions – No one is expected to have a detailed response to eachand every question. Further, it is an exercise in futility to try and
anticipate all conceivable questions. However, you can reasonably anticipate
what issues will come up in an interview or in the Q&A following a
presentation. Thus, when asked about a specific point or detail that you do not
know, or cannot recall, speak to your position or perspective on the issue more
broadly. For example, “At the moment I don’t have the specific details you’ve asked for. However, the key point to keep in mind is…” and then go on to cite your position or perspective on the issue in general, if not in specific.
Being prepared with a transitional statement that takes you into a broader discussion
of the issue allows you to demonstrate greater command.
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