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How to Answer Questions, Public Speaking, Donald Trump, Any Questions

Any questions?

What do the likely next Prime Minister and the US President have in common?

They both dislike answering questions.

President Donald Trump only answers ones posed by interviewers he’s chosen.

Boris Johnson refuses to take part in a TV debate among candidates for the top job.

So what can we learn from this?

And how does it apply in the world of business, public service and the third sector?

Read on.

How to answer questions

How to Answer Questions, public speaking, Boris Johnson

What we learn is this.

The quickest way to build mistrust is to refuse to answer questions.

Footage of President Obama answering questions in a packed press room appears to be from a bygone era.

As Donald Trump he made his bid for the presidency, he took to Twitter.

He spat out his view on everything.

But refused to be interviewed on anything.

Now in office, he prefers to talk.

Rather than listen to questions.

And now the man most likely to be the next UK PM is following suit.

Boris invited the media to his news conference, launching his bid to be Prime Minister.

But he made one thing clear:

There will be only six questions.

So TV viewers like me were denied the chance to hear his views.

On issues that matter to me.

On Sunday, he was invited to take part in a TV debate with the other candidates.

But he declined.

So I’m left to guess his views on subjects debated.

The following day, other candidates fielded media interviews.

Boris declined.


How to Answer Questions, Public Speaking, Boris Johnson, Undemocratic

His fears may be the same as many of us who worry about how to answer questions.

What if we mess it up?

In our case, it could cost a contract.

In his case, it could cost the highest office in the land.

But it’s a fear we need to overcome to succeed in business.

Now some would say it’s undemocratic to seek to become Prime Minister, but refuse to answer questions we want addressed.

And that becomes a worry as to when else a Johnson Prime Minister would refuse to answer questions.

So should we behave similarly to these politicians 1 we represent our business or public sector organisation?

Or our charity?

The answer is emphatic.

Absolutely not.

Here’s why.

Overcome the fear

How to Answer Questions, Public Speaking, Donald Trump, Overcome Fear

People need to ask as many questions as it takes to believe in a point of view.

Whether we’re selling a service.

A product.

The point of view of a public body.

Or support for our charity.

I have questions for my dentist, my doctor, my accountant.

The salesman selling my next car.

We use questions to overcome fears and build confidence.

Steps one, two and three

how to answer questions, boris johnson, public speaking, steps 1 2 3

If we’re the one being asked, we must know how to answer questions.

We need to do only three things:

  1.  Know the points we want to make
  2.  Ask ourselves the difficult questions in advance
  3.  Understand the technique of answering questions

So what is the technique to answering questions directly and confidently?

It’s very simple.

There are only four main answers to a direct question:

  • Yes
  • No
  • I don’t know
  • It’s too early to say

Building bridges

How to Answer Questions, Public Speaking, Donald Trump, Building bridges

Then we need to build a bridge from the start of the answer.

And take it to where we want to go.

We do it all the time at home.

We know how to answer questions.


Would you like a cup of coffee?


No thanks, but I would take a tea.

Or how about this?


Can we nip out to get some shopping this afternoon?


Yes that’s fine, can we make sure we’re back before five o’ clock?

Or this.


When will you be back from work?


I don’t know.  I’ll text when I’m on the train.

Or lastly, this.


When can we book those flights?


It’s too early say.  I need to check I can get that time off work first.

All are direct questions.

Where we can answer directly and still get what we want.

So what’s so difficult about doing that politically?

Could it be that awkward questions are looming for Mr Johnson, such as:

“Did you intentionally mislead people by saying Brexit would give the NHS £350 million a day?



I don’t know?

It’s too early to say?

If Mr Johnson refuses to answer our questions then we have to decide for ourselves.


Bill McFarlan is co-Founder and Executive Chairman at Pink Elephant Communications in Glasgow.

You can read his full profile here.


Photos by Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SABackBoris2012 / CC BY-ND / Annie Mole / CC BY on

21st June 2019 Featured in: Blog, Communication skills training blogs By:

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