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What’s the toughest question you could be asked at work? So plan ahead!

There is a well-researched PR masterclass on YouTube, primarily about how to plan ahead, showing Richard Branson talking about a tragic event. A Virgin train has come off the track, there is a fatality and many injured. The press have their microphones inches from his face against a back drop of the train standing upright; the tragedy is plain to see. It would be easy to assume that he was speaking off the cuff, but I would be pretty sure that that is not the case. He was on a family holiday when it happened and on the journey to get to the site, he will have drawn up a plan, prepared and practised what he was going to say.

In most lines of work, we meet people who ‘wing it’; they are quite proud to say they are happy in situations where they have to wing answers. I do it myself at times. But that should not be the communication method of preference. Faced with seriously tough questions from a client, employer or employee, they deserve a response that shows that you have given some real thought and a plan as to what they need to know. They don’t just want words and bold statements; they want to hear a message, something to indicate that you are as in control of the situation as you can be. That you have used critical thinking to make decisions and find solutions. Your job is to know as much as you can possibly know about the area that is your responsibility and then be able to craft informative, useful responses to the questions that arise about issues that may be causing uncertainty for others.

Planning, preparing and practising what you will say will enable you to draw upon the best messages that you can give. When you can answer tough questions well, it will enhance your reputation and credibility.

To see how Branson handled it, listen to it – really listen. Hear the underlying messages that he gives about Virgin, about safety and about where else the fault may lie.

Penny Whitelock

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