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Steve Jobs teaches us 5 ways to nail an audience question

If you watch the above video, you'll see a disdainful audience member launch into the late Apple Computer Co-Founder, Steve Jobs, for not supporting pre-existing technologies such as Java and thus making computing "less efficient".

This is everyone's worst fear - getting a question from someone in the room that's piercing, well researched and with just enough truth to prevent an easy reply. (Plus, it is deeply personally insulting, so there's that.)

Let's break down Jobs' method for nailing the acerbic audience question.

  1. Take your time. There is no rush (especially when you're Steve Jobs). Take that pause (please don't say "um"). Jobs audibly gasps and bends down under the metaphorical weight of the question. He shows with his body how he struggled with the question and its implications. Too often, we feel the pressure to have a quick response to everything. That is required in high pressure meetings, no doubt, and yet there are many situations that give us just enough time (roughly 30 seconds) to compose ourselves.

  2. Talk about the Problem or the Question itself. This is an underrated technique - because you want to "perception check", i.e. figure out if you and the audience are on the same page. More importantly, we have to lay out the problem, listing the challenges, variables, factors etc., not merely to stall for time (that's helpful, though) but also to re-frame the situation in a favorable manner. That's exactly what Jobs does. In his example, he makes the problem not merely about the "best" technology but about running a business and generating revenue. So then he's talking about a new variable - money.

  3. Frame your solution. Jobs hits a body blow by firstly pointing out that it is provably ineffective to "sell" your personal idea of a solution in the market, and it is more effective to know what the market wants and then try to make something that fits a market need. By branding himself as a user-centric businessman, he tags onto a truism in business as well as marking the audience member as a technological elitist. Suddenly, we are all on Jobs' side, he is for the people and their needs.

  4. Show humility and show your credentials in the same message without either one cutting the other. In a rare feat, using gentle hand gestures, a soft reassuring tone of voice and all the while acknowledging that the audience member and others more than likely know more about technology than he does, Jobs manages to drop the small fact that he was running a $8Bn-$10Bn enterprise. That hard number is difficult to argue with. So we have an accomplished businessman with tech know how who wants to help the customer be successful. That's a win.

  5. Cherry on top - The Team. Maybe the most powerful component of Jobs' answer was his tribute to his team and essentially acknowledging them as the brains of the company - that despite many offers from competitors, they have chosen to believe in the company and build something special for the future.

Future orientation, optimism and team over self - there's no better way to end a speech.


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