Handling Q&A Sessions

Leadership always comes with a microphone. Whether casting vision, explaining strategy, or motivating your team, you’ll find yourself speaking before a group.

And if you speak before groups, you’ll likely also find yourself fielding questions either informally or in an official question and answer session.

Here are some tips for managing a Q&A session successfully.


Don’t fear silence.

Sometimes when the floor is first opened for questions the room becomes awkwardly silent.  It takes people some time to form their questions in their mind before standing up or taking a mic to ask them.

It may take others – introverts perhaps – additional time to get up the courage to ask their question publicly. Remain clam and welcoming – smiling at the group a bit during the silence.

You can solicit comments as well as questions, and then respond to the comments offered.

If a while passes at the start with no questions asked, I will essentially ask myself a question and then answer it.  I’ll say something like, “A question I frequently get asked on this subject is _____ and I always tell them ….” This serves to break the ice.  Alternatively, you can pre-arrange for someone present to ask a specific question at the start of the Q&A session to get the ball rolling.

After a flurry of questions, the room may fall silent again. If time allows, don’t automatically close out the session at this point. Tell the group you have time to take a couple more questions or respond to a couple more thoughts. Introverts can take a while to formulate and voice their thoughts, but they often have insightful ones. So get comfortable handling a little silence while a group is looking at you.

Repeat the question before answering.

This is especially key when the size of the audience or the room itself is large.  Repeating the question ensures that everyone hears and knows the context for the answer you are giving.

It also provides a chance to ensure that you did in fact understand the question being asked, before launching into a lengthy potentially off-topic response. Look at the questioner as you repeat the question.

Plus, it gives your mind a moment to begin formulating the answer you want to give. But never fear taking a quiet moment to collect your thoughts before answering a question if you need to.

Answer to the entire group.

Don’t focus solely on the person who asked the question with your answer. Direct your answer to the entire group, spreading out your eye contact and projecting your voice across the crowd just as you would while giving a presentation.

This keeps the whole audience engaged. Plus, it is likely that someone else in the room was wondering the same thing as the person who asked the question.

When you are done answering a question, you can bring your gaze back to rest on the person who asked the question, perhaps with a nod of your head or a “Thanks for asking that.”

Don’t pretend to know it all.

If you are asked a question you do not know the answer to, simply state that rather than feigning your way through an answer. Most audiences can detect “BS.” And someone in the audience may know the correct answer.

I like to praise the questioner in these cases. For example: “That is such a good question. I can’t say that I know the answer to it. I would need to do some more thinking/research before I could fully answer that one. It’s a great question though, and one I will look into.”  This helps the asker feel some satisfaction despite not receiving an answer to their question.

Research shows that the Q&A session following a speech can have as much or more impact on the audience’s impressions of you and your message as your speech itself. So train yourself to relax and allow time for questions to arise, repeat the question before answering, and deliver honest answers the same way you would your speech -engaging the entire audience.

The Forté Institute’s Rachel Olsen is on faculty at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Rachel is a communication specialist, and a trained and certified coach. Call at The Forté Institute at 910-452-5152.


Your Management Style

Every leader has an individual management style that is a blend of their innate personality traits, communication style strengths, work history, and life experience. The question is, do you know yours? And, is it always effective?

Effective leaders know their strengths, and they build a team around them that can compensate for their limitations. They know how to lead from their strengths, without turning a blind eye to their weaknesses.

Here’s six things you can do to ensure that your personal management style will help your company achieve its objectives:

  1. Know your specific management style: Step one is to find out how you are hardwired to lead. What are your strengths? What management style do you default to? An assessment can help you see this objectively in black and white. For instance, you can take the Forte Communication Style Survey to learn both your communication style and your management style.
  2. Know how you’re being perceived: The second step is to discover how you are coming across to those you work with. The adapting portion of the Forte Communication Style Survey also shows you this in black and white. Or you can ask some trusted peers or direct reports for honest feedback. For an even more thorough evaluation, use a 360 leadership assessment to see the full picture.
  3. Understand that your biggest strength can hold you back: It’s common for professionals to figure out what they’re good at and then run with it. In fact, when problems arise, we often pour on more of the same, only stronger. A planning style manager may bog the team down in plans and details, while an influencing manager may talk past the point of helpfulness and slow the team down. Sometimes, less is more – even of strengths. Remember that those around you have different defaults and needs. Your goal is to adapt. So first know your strengths, and then recognize when to throttle them back. 
Forte Adapting updates can help.
  4. Don’t hire in your own likeness: We tend to gravitate towards people who are similar to us. In fact, studies show that managers often rate more highly employees they perceive as “like” them. This birds-of-a-feather phenomena may help you build enjoyable friendships, but always hiring employees with traits like yours will build a lopsided work team. Hire, and then value, a diversity of opinions and strengths, matching each person’s strengths to the role they fill.
  5. Know those you hire: Each person on your team has a way that they like to lead and be led. There are specific ways you can communicate with each of them to best reach them and motivate them. Sound like a lot of work? It doesn’t have to be. Effective leadership is not just about knowing and using your style, but also about adapting your style as needed to best lead the team. Give your team members the Forte Communication Style Profile to learn how to communicate and motivate the individuals around you.
  6. Get a wingman that is opposite of you: One smart thing you can do for your company and your growth as a leader is to build a relationship with a peer who complements rather than mirrors your management style. They can help you see your strengths and your blind spots. They can suggest alternative approaches you might not think of. And they can tell you how you really come across to the world.

To lead at optimum levels you need – chances are – information that you don’t currently have … like how you tend to lead, how each of your employees prefer to be led, and how you are currently coming across to them. The Forte Institute tool suite can easily put that information in your hands.

If you are in senior management, you’ve already seen time and again that people skills are key to effective leadership. Yet strategy and market positioning tend to occupy the thoughts of most C-level leaders. If you will take the extra step of understanding your own leadership style, then use it and also compensate for it, you will not only help your company excel, but your career as well.

For more information on how leadership assessments can help you hone your leadership style, see this article at HR.answers.com or give us a call at the Forte Institute: 910-452-5152.

The Forté Institute’s Rachel Olsen is on faculty at the University of North Carolina Wilmington in the Communication Studies department. She is a communication specialist, and a trained and certified coach. 

Powerful Protocol

Would you like the ability to keep your team engaged with their work?

Knowing and consistently doing what is needed, expected or desired of you can increase your power as a leader and your team’s engagement on the job.

Here’s some advice from one of our partners Don Brown on developing and following a leader’s protocol.

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Power in Protocol

One can define “protocol” as:

  1. an accepted code of behavior
  2. a prescribed approach for correct conduct or action
  3. a set of conventional principles and expectations.

A living example would be a physician’s protocol. When interacting with patients with compromised immune systems the protocol calls for disinfectant, gloves and masks before any contact with a patient. These actions are universally expected and accepted in preventing or avoiding infection.

What then are the accepted actions, principles and expectations for a leader’s conduct?

Our study of employees from Singapore to Syracuse reveals a triad of expectations. Your followers want three things from leadership: Communication, Feedback and Autonomy. Make these your “Leader’s Protocol.”

Following this protocol is key to preventing disengagement in your team.


Your first consideration when someone knocks on your office door and asks, “Got a minute?” lies in understanding and responding to the communication need that exists in that moment with that person.

Two questions might help you master the communication protocol:

  1. What is the purpose of your communication? There are really only three reasons we communicate; to relate (to establish or maintain association), to influence (to sway or have a desired effect), or to inform (to transfer knowledge or provoke awareness). Try determining or setting the purpose of your communication before you speak.
  2. What style of communication would be most effective? The easiest taxonomy to use is that of extrovert versus introvert. If you’re talking to an introvert, try being a little quieter yourself – a little less talkative. If that person is an extrovert, try to open up just a bit.

The rules of engagement are simple: Understand your purpose, and adapt to their style.


They want to know how they’re doing! They want to know what you think. They want feedback, and they want it from you.

Feedback can take on two forms – process and praise – and they’re both important.

Process – When you’re addressing process, three words are relevant in the moment: quality, quantity and time. Quality means, are they meeting your specification as to how well it needs to be done?

Quantity invokes a number, a metric. Are their numbers made or missed? Also, time as a reflection of performance with respect to deadline. Are they first or last, early or late?

Praise – When offering praise, three words are also relevant: effort, contribution, and growth.  Effort is about energy, intensity, and exertion. Contribution is about either personal output or impact on others. Growth is about discernible improvement.

Try communicating how they’re doing with regards to their effort, contribution or growth.


This last element in a leader’s protocol is autonomy. Look for places to grant it. Followers care about independence. They want responsibility, and the freedom to make decisions (and even mistakes).

Indicators of autonomy weigh heavily on the minds of your team members. They think about it a lot. In response, you should be thinking about ownership and exit.

Ownership – The central question is, should their efforts be self-directed or directed by you? And, what is your own degree of reluctance to let go? Key to making this call is clarity around the nature of the task involved, and the authority to act. Strangely enough, their autonomy is in your hands. Remember that.

Exit – the second consideration in letting go is having a conscious exit strategy to get you out of their work. To do this, understand two concepts: data and delta.

Data has to do with facts, statistics or information used as your basis for decision-making. What data do you need to see to be able to let go? The word “delta” signifies change. Look for changes in their performance that demonstrate a new level of mastery. We can almost always spot growth – but only if we’re looking for it. Let your exit strategy accelerate along the curve of their competence.

There is power in protocol. Let your leadership wisely and consistently provide helpful communication, timely feedback and a generous amount of autonomy. Our challenge in leading in a no-normal world will be adopting – and practicing – this powerful leader’s protocol.


*To better your interpersonal communication and adapt to the extroverts and the introverts on your team, try an Interaction Report. To provide truly robust feedback, try an i360 Report.  To accelerate competence and autonomy, try Performance Coaching.

Don Brown dedicates his career to leadership, sales and service effectiveness. Learn more about Don, his services, and his books at http://www.donbrown.org.



Pinpoint a Great Manager

When a person consistently excels in their position – say as a sales rep – it’s a common practice in organizations to assume that person will make a great manager of their team or division.

Most companies have made at least one successful salesperson the sales manager, only to find their effectiveness in the managerial position a surprising disappointment. The skills required for effective sales don’t necessarily mirror the skills needed for effective management.

We see this frequently on the playing field. Sometimes a successful former player makes a good coach. Sometimes they do not. And sometimes a former mediocre player makes a great coach.

It can be helpful for the sales manager to understand the specific demands of this sales team selling this product – which they do when they rise from that team’s ranks. And it certainly helps for the manager to have the trust or respect of the sales force going in. But how do you know if one of your sales professionals can manage the team?

How do you choose a sales manager that can actually manage? 

Frank Cespedes, Senior Lecturer in the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at Harvard Business School (one of Forte’s clients) writes:

To identify salespeople who can become effective sales managers, leaders need to clearly define the specific behaviors required of managers, and then test for them effectively. And this actually isn’t so hard if you use the right framework and assessment techniques, and then use that knowledge and tools to communicate shared expectations with those aspiring to be sales managers.

So the first step is to clearly identify what traits and behaviors are required for successful management of this team.  Forté can help you do that – either by identifying the traits of your other/former top managers, or by getting the input of several key people in key positions and forming a top performer profile.

The next step is to compare that top profile with the profiles of your potential candidates – which Forté can also do for you. Even if you do not have a close match in your talent pool or applicant pool, Forté can help you coach the manager you hire to adapt themselves to display the needed traits and behaviors.

Reality is, to be profitable and competitive in today’s marketplace we cannot simply rely on our gut in promotion or hiring decisions. In fact, interviewing alone rarely results in a slam-dunk hire. Research reveals there’s only about a 14% correlation between a hiring manager’s perception of a candidate’s potential for success, based on an interview, and how the candidate actually performs in the job.

You need to see how your pool of candidates are likely to think and behave in that position, not just hear how they will talk about it in an interview.

So employ assesment techniques such as role plays, tests or simulations in addition to the interview. Have a clear vision of the traits and behaviors this position requires. And utilize software like Forté that can show both you and the applicant, in a matter of mere minutes, their communication and leadership style, and how that compares to the particular needs of this mangerial position.

You can hire a great manager.

We can help.


Give us a call at 910-452-5152.

The Forté Institute’s Rachel Olsen is on faculty at the University of North Carolina Wilmington in the Communication Studies department. She is a communication specialist, and a trained and certified coach. 




Leading Through Listening


Why hire talented people and not fully utilize them?


Can we fully utilize the people we hire if we’re not listening to them?


Listening is an important leadership responsibility that rarely appears in the job description.  Yet the higher up the corporate ladder, the more critical listening well becomes.


In fact, executives are reported to spend as much as 80% of their day listening.

Those who listen well to their employees are in a much better position to lead an increasingly diverse workforce, in an increasingly changing marketplace.


Listening skills underlie most leadership functions: developing teams, making informed decisions, problem-solving, and meeting customers’ needs.


The best leaders are both proactive and strategic in their listening. As a leader, you want to know what your team knows, what they are thinking, what’s stumping them, and how they’re adapting (or not) to challenges.


That requires asking open-ended questions such as, “What is your biggest challenge currently?” Or, “Can you think of two ways we could improve X?” Or, “How can I best support you as we complete this project?”


Listening well makes leaders effective because they can:


  • Anticipate potential problems and proactively address them.
  • Overcome performance slumps by giving timely, informed advice via feedback and coaching.
  • Stimulate creativity and gather ideas.
  • Allow employees to feel heard and supported, building trust and loyalty. A staff that feels appreciated willingly does more than is expected.


If you are leading a team, be sure you are also listening to your team. Ensure they feel understood, valued and heard.


Nothing beats face-to-face communication with your employees, and the Forté suite of products can be a strategic tool in your listening effectiveness. Forté’s on-going adapting updates can indicate when it may be time to sit down for a one-to-one conversation.


Forté will also teach you, their leader, how to best communicate with each individual team member—based on their strengths and motivators—during your interactions, allowing you to draw out the potential in your team.


Call or email The Forté Institute today to explore how we can help you develop a proactive listening strategy, and keep your finger on the pulse of your team.


The Forté Institute’s Rachel Olsen is a Communication Studies faculty member at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She is a communication specialist and a trained and certified coach. 

Coaching Hand Up graphic

Coaching to Success

I nodded my head continuously as I read through an article by Monique Valcouat at The Harvard Business Review titled “You Can’t Be a Great Manager If You’re Not a Good Coach.” 

(Note: We’re proud to say The Harvard Business School is a Forté client.)


Here’s an excerpt from that article I think every leader should read:


“If you have room in your head for only one nugget of leadership wisdom, make it this one: the most powerfully motivating condition people experience at work is making progress at something that is personally meaningful. If your job involves leading others, the implications are clear: the most important thing you can do each day is to help your team members experience progress at meaningful work.

To do so, you must understand what drives each person, help build connections between each person’s work and the organization’s mission and strategic objectives, provide timely feedback, and help each person learn and grow on an ongoing basis.

Regular communication around development — having coaching conversations — is essential. In fact, according to recent research, the single most important managerial competency that separates highly effective managers from average ones is coaching.”


If you’re a leader, it’s great to see these clear, prioritized, research-based objectives for your role. But if you’re like most leaders, at the same time, you feel somewhat uneasy with this.


You make decisions about products, purchases and budgets, you keep your team working on task, you deliver quality on schedule, but are you confident you are actually developing your team?


Do you know what drives each person? Can you help them best relate to each other, or adapt to workplace demands? Are you coaching them to produce meaningful work for your company, in authentic ways?


Forté can help.

Coaching Hand Up graphic 


Q: How can I understand what drives each person on my team?


A: Give them each the Forté Communication Style Profile survey. It helps both them and you understand their communication style, leadership style, self-motivators, de-motivators, and much more.


You’ll both receive a copy of their profile results and it will certainly reveal what drives them—as well as how they are currently adapting on the job, and how they are most likely being perceived by the team at this time.


Q: How do I provide timely feedback to my team members?


A: Coaching is not a once-then-done process, neither is Forté. Your team can take the short, automated Forte Adapting Update survey as often as every 30 days, or at intervals of your choosing.


This Adapting survey will instantly reveal how they’ve been adapting to their work demands and environment – both recently and over time. You’ll both be able to see how well they believe they’re currently meeting their goals, feeling resilient in the face of challenges and change, and more.


You can use this report as a jumping off point for a regular coaching conversation with your direct reports. You don’t have to remember to administer this survey, it can be delivered to their email inbox automatically at the prescribed intervals.


Q: How do I know the best way to communicate with those I am coaching?


A: Once the Forté Communication Style survey is completed, you can run Forté Interaction Reports between you and each of your team members. This tool shows both of you how to best to communicate with, and adapt to, one another.

You will know how to talk so they they will listen. Forté is all about recognizing each other’s strengths, and building productive relationships that last.


Q: How do I help my team members reach goals and improve on an on-going basis?


A: Utilize the Forté Performance Coaching report. One of our exciting new tools, this simplifies and codifies the coaching process for you and your team.


Each coachee receives pre-session questions to prepare them for your coaching session. You receive a coaching strategy, checklist, and plan that is in line with each team member’s main strengths and motivators as revealed by their Forté profile.


You’ll be guided and empowered like never before to specifically coach each team member to top performance.


Often, coaching is the difference between a leader who gains commitment from their employees and one who only gains compliance.


Regular communication around your team members’ development is essential. Make a plan to have consistent coaching conversations with your team.


Call or email The Forté Institute today to explore how we can help you coach your team or organization to excellence.


The Forté Institute’s Rachel Olsen is a Communication Studies faculty member at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She is a communication specialist and a trained and certified coach.