Have you ever had to answer difficult questions after a business presentation or during an important meeting? The ability to appropriately address difficult questions that you might face during a meeting will help set a positive example in your organization, says Anita Zinsmeister, president of Dale Carnegie Training of Central & Southern New Jersey at 1 AAA Drive in Hamilton.

“Many business leaders find presentations and crucial business meetings extremely stressful,” says Zinsmeister. “Usually, long meetings and presentations concerning topics of change are most difficult for employees. Generally, people do not react well to change if they like the way things are already going.”

Dale Carnegie will present “High-Impact Presentations,” a two-day course aimed at adding sizzle to public and corporate events on Wednesdays, April 17 and 24, at 8 a.m. at the Dale Carnegie Training Center. Cost: $1,800. Go to centralnj.dalecarnegie.com, call 609-631-0500, or E-mail anita.zinsmeister@dalecarnegie.com.

The office, which moved to Hamilton last October, was previously in Bordentown for seven years. Zinsmeister said the new office’s proximity to Turnpike Exit 7A, I-195, Route 130, the Hamilton Marketplace, and the Hilton Garden Inn made it an ideal location.

“We needed an office that was centrally located to the area we cover, from Union County down to the tip of Cape May, and Hamilton is a great location,” says Zinsmeister. “We also needed proximity to major highways since we have a training center here and need it to be easily accessible.” She adds that the new space was an upgrade over the Bordentown office and offered more room for their classroom.

According to Zinsmeister, the High Impact Presentations class typically has between 10 and 12 participants and is taught by two instructors. One trainer evaluates and coaches participants on their presentation skills. Each presentation is filmed, and participants review their DVD one on one with the second trainer for additional coaching. “The level of individualized coaching helps bring about amazing improvements in a very short time,” Zinsmeister says.

About 90 percent of the students who take the class have their tuition paid for by their companies or organizations who “see it as a very worthwhile investment in their employee,” Zinsmeister says. “How someone delivers a presentation can make the difference between getting approval on a project, buy in on a specific initiative, making technical information clear, or closing a sale.”

“The return that an organization receives from elevating their employee’s abilities can be exponential,” she adds. “Often they get one shot to address senior management in the boardroom, make a sale to a buying committee, or get an initiative approved. Their increased credibility can make a huge difference in their career.”

There are also some individuals who “invest in themselves as well when they see that specific need,” says Zinsmeister. “Attendees vary from business owners and senior executives, to sales people, to human resource professionals, to engineers or IT professionals.”

Zinsmeister, who has been with Dale Carnegie Training since 1988, offers several tips for professionals preparing for a presentation or meeting.

Be Informed. Zinsmeister says you need to arm yourself with necessary and supplemental information about the topic of the meeting or presentation. “Even if you cannot answer a difficult or emotional question, you can at least provide the questioner with facts, statistics, and evidence,” she says. “If you do not have a direct answer to the question, offer to follow up with it in an E-mail to the group — and follow through on that promise.”

Maintain control. “Set some ground rules for your Q&A session,” says Zinsmeister. “At the beginning of your presentation, ask listeners to hold their questions until you are finished. If you have a time limit, manage expectations by mentioning it at the start of the presentation.” To prevent interruptions, speakers should provide their listeners with pens and notepaper to encourage them to write their questions down and ask them later.

Rephrase the question. After you receive a question, rephrase it and confirm that you have understood the questioner properly. If the question contains incorrect information or assumptions, take this opportunity to provide the facts.

Answer questions carefully. “A questioner might try to bait you with a question, so choose your words carefully when you respond,” says Zinsmeister. “To avoid becoming too emotional over the topic, make sure you address the entire audience in your response. This will also make everyone feel included.”

It is also important, she points out, to remain professional toward all audience members, answer questions directly, and construct your answer to relate to the point you wish to emphasize. “If someone has a specific question that does not apply to others, offer to speak with him or her independently following the presentation.”

Prepare an FAQ document. Zinsmeister suggests that to save time, you should prepare a document listing frequently asked questions that you can hand out after the presentation. This allows everyone to have firm answers in writing. By anticipating questions, you can also save on time.

Zinsmeister’s father owned a business called Bio Diagnostic Systems in Princeton that created, manufactured, and distributed clinical diagnostic tests for laboratories. Her mother was a substitute teacher in the Princeton School System until she left to help run the family business.

Zinsmeister earned a degree in communication studies from UCLA. Before joining Dale Carnegie she worked in sales for a hotel, public relations for Albert Einstein Medical Center, and was public affairs manager for a small regional airline on the west coast.

At Dale Carnegie she has conducted training for clients including Campbell Soup, Lakehurst Naval Base, Deborah Heart & Lung Center, ETS, and General Motors, among others. She currently lives in Princeton with her husband and twin sons.

“Difficult questions are a challenging aspect of leading a business meeting and/or presentation,” says Zinsmeister. “To succeed, ensure that you maintain positive body language and continually demonstrate how the answers can benefit the audience.”

— Bill Sanservino

Dale Carnegie Training, 1 AAA Drive, Suite 102, Hamilton 08691; 609-631-0500; fax, 609-631-0505. http://centralnj.dalecarnegie.com.

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