Startup Secret 48: We are programmed to receive

Listening to questions--and answering them--is as important a skill as giving the pitch, whether you're on a stage or in a one-on-one meeting.

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman
2 min read

"Listen to the question."

--Jason Calacanis, host, Launch conference

I sat in on one of the demo prep sessions for the recent Launch conference, in which Jason dispensed advice to the CEOs practicing their pitches. After each pitch, of course, come the showy, congressional inquiry-style questions from the onstage judges. Jason's advice for dealing with the questions is basic, but presenters still need to be reminded of it.

"Be in the moment," Jason says. "Listen."

It should be easy. But it isn't, especially when you're onstage in front of a thousand people, blinded by lights, and unable to hear well because the sound system is designed to throw everything to the audience, not to you. (Props to Jason for putting monitor speakers on the Launch stage; most conferences don't have this.)

Listening to questions, and answering them, is as important a skill as giving the pitch, whether you're on a stage or in a one-on-one meeting. Either way, it's very easy to get caught up in your message and your frame of mind. To answer a question effectively you have to really hear the person who is asking it. Where are they coming from? What is their frame of reference? What attitude and history are they bringing to the conversation? Listen, hear, and understand. Then talk.

Remember that pausing before you answer never sounds as painful to the person asking the question as you think it does. Take a moment, and use it well.

And as Jason says, be succinct. Don't take side trips. Engage with the topic the person is asking about. Remember that no matter how smart your answer is, nobody will hear it if they feel you haven't first heard them.

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