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From the desk of Steve Lowell, Master Speaker and Mentor to those who speak in public.


If You Donít Know the Answer, Donít Ask the Question

Around 1987, I was sitting in a large conference room that held between eighty and one-hundred other business people. Our host was at the podium, introducing our guest speaker. The guest speaker had just published a new book. He was the founder of an organization and on the board of directors for another corporation. He had a list of credentials a mile long.

As his name was announced, our guest speaker stepped up to the podium. As I watched him, I noticed how successful he looked. He was tall, confident, and self-assured. He was wearing an expensive looking suit that was most likely custom tailored, and I was thinking, ďThis is going to be really good!Ē

As our speaker stepped up to the podium, he raised his right hand high into the air, and he asked this question, ďBy a show of hands, who here has read The One Minute Manager?Ē (This wasnít the book this speaker had written.)

I hadnít read that book, so I didnít raise my hand. I look around the room, and not a single hand was raised.

ďNo one has read, The One Minute Manager?Ē he asked, now looking a little concerned. I scanned the room again, and still found no hands in the raised position.

Our speaker began to stumble over his words at this point, as if heíd been completely thrown off by the fact that nobody in the room had read that book. He grabbed a piece of paper off the podium, and his hand began to shake so badly we could hear that paper rattle clear across the room. After a few seconds of stumbling and stammering, our speaker took both of his hands, brought them up to his face, and began to weep like a child.

My jaw dropped, and I was now staring at this man in complete disbelief. I figured this must be part of his show, or something of the kind. After a few moments, he removed his hands from his face; he then wiped his hands on his custom tailored suit, as he picked up his papers and he walked out the door.

Our speaker didnít anticipate the answer to his question would be anything other than what he was prepared for. When he was caught off guard by the audience response, it threw him right off his game, and everything in his mind came crashing down around him. To this day, I donít recall this poor manís name, nor have I seen him anywhere else since.

So, whatís the lesson? Never pose a question to an audience, unless you either know what their answer will be in advance, or youíre thoroughly prepared to handle any other possible answer that could come up.

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