Buy Time by Becoming a Pro at Paraphrasing

“Uh, ummm, let me think about that.”Chinese Sign for paraphrase

How embarrassing if you’re making a presentation and someone asks a question that you can’t answer in a timely manner. If you fumble your response with a wide-eyed stare, you’ll not only look like a deer caught in the headlights but will lose the confidence of the audience.

Paraphrase to Buy Time

Paraphrasing is the process of restating or rewording a thought. By paraphrasing, you reinforce your original message – and avoid saying the wrong thing.

Paraphrasing is a valuable tool that speakers don’t use often enough. While one side of your brain is scrambling to come up with the right answer, the other side should have several prepared “fillers” you’ve practiced and stored away for just such an occasion.

One of those fillers would have helped Former-President Obama who made headlines in a press briefing when he said, “we don’t have a strategy yet” to deal with ISIS jihadists. He stumbled while trying to explain his Syrian policy at a press conference.

It was obvious that the President was trying to frame his answer very carefully. But he must have anticipated that he would get that question and been prepared with his answer. His response didn’t engender confidence in his leadership at a time when the Middle East is in turmoil.

The President could have said: “In answer to your question, all our attention is being given to formulating our strategy. When we’re ready to go public, and that will be soon, we will share more details. What I can tell you at this time is …”

Be Ready With an Answer

Paraphrasing gives you the few seconds you need to come across as calm and collected and not respond with a knee jerk reaction.deer-in-orange-headlights

A personal example I’ve often cited is the time I entered the board room where my team and our client, a biotech CEO, were meeting to discuss a large group training session that was starting the next day in Las Vegas.

My plane was late, the meeting was already in progress and I barely had time to sit down when the chairman asked, “Tell me what can we expect from you and your team this weekend.”

To buy time, I responded, “Ron, I’m so glad you asked me that. We’re excited to share everything we know with your thought leaders.” Then I paused to catch my breath and continued, “There are three major areas we’re going to cover” and went on to recap the training content, all the while smiling and making eye contact with him.

There is no such thing as an impromptu  remark. People who are experts at speaking extemporaneously have actually practiced a variety of scenarios to fit the occasion.

These are fillers you might use when you’re stuck for a quick response:

What I heard you say was…
I’m glad that you brought that up…
I can tell that you’re very interested in this subject…
I was hoping someone would bring that up…
I got this same question last week…
I hear what you’re saying but don’t agree with your premise…
That may have been the case in the past, here’s what we’re doing now…

Have these phrases “in your hip pocket” ready to pull out and use when appropriate.

Summarize by Paraphrasing

Paraphrasing allows you to summarize your points of view without using the same words. Re-emphasize your themes so that you’ve got and keep everyone going in the same direction.

Remember to use “you” instead of “I” in your recap. “This is how you can accomplish your goals,” and not, “I’ve given you all the information you need to get where you want to be.”

If you’re addressing a small group, have a name tent in front of each participant so that you can use their name when calling on them or when they ask a question. If the questioner asks a hostile question, hearing their name takes away some of the tension. For larger groups, supply badges with first names typed in large letters that you can easily see.

Paraphrase your call to action by making it about your audience and not you. “You’re the people who are going to make this happen.”

Personalize your remarks and acknowledge members of the audience for their contributions. “As John said earlier, the market is ready for this product.”

It all simply boils down to being prepared. Anticipate questions you may be asked and be ready with the answers. If someone tosses you a curveball you didn’t expect, just reach into your hip pocket and take out one of your fillers. Then smile and deliver your response.

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