The Coffee Machine: the Most Dangerous Place in the Office?

Handling Q&A

How many times have you been stopped in your tracks by an unexpected question? Who was it from? And where was it? When you were just leaving the office? In the lift? Or at the coffee machine?

The coffee machine is potentially the most dangerous place in the office. The CEO might just be passing, see you and ask for a quick update on a project you're working on. Or the FD might want to know the reason for the variance in your actual spend v budget this month.

No problem - if you're prepared. But what if you're not?


Naturally you consider (and plan) the Q&A session at the end of a presentation. But the tricky question posed as the stream of coffee spits and splurges endlessly into a plastic cup can make you feel awkward.

You can find yourself suddenly on the back foot, defending yourself, stuttering your way through an ill-thought out reply under the scrutiny of Management. And you can leave the machine with your reputation in tatters.

So what can you do?

First of all, anticipate the sorts of impromptu questions you might be asked by colleagues. By creating a store cupboard of well-crafted messages you can respond confidently and get the most complete and most appropriate message across - just when you need it.

Consider what your colleagues might want to know. What information could they want/need? What are the main areas of concern for them at the moment?

Next, decide what messages YOU want to get across.

» Establish your Key Message and any supporting messages

» Use simple frameworks to help you to organise your thoughts

» Use simple syntax to express your message clearly and succinctly

» Select the best words to convey exactly what you mean

» Make important messages memorable by the judicious use of a powerful metaphor/simile, or vivid example.

If you are managing any sort of change, anticipate the objections, criticisms and concerns which might be raised. To enable you to handle challenges confidently, use the Professional Voice SHIFT method to help you respond (rather than react). This literally helps you to shift negative views - even entrenched ones - rather than creating walls. Instead you can use the opportunity presented by the unexpected conversation to build a bridge between your colleague and yourself, and demonstrate your leadership communication skill.

If you need to improve your impromptu speaking skills and want to learn the secrets of how to successfully:

» Handle difficult questions

» Turn round a negative perception

» Steer the conversation in a different direction

Contact us today and ask about the Speaking as a Leader program.

Please contact Simon Cannon at Professional Voice today:

+44 (0)208 579 6662