Last Updated May 18, 2011 2:46 PM EDT
Todd Rogers, of the Analyst Institute, and Michael Norton, of Harvard Business School, have just completed a study that asks audience members to rate speakers on their honestly, trustworthiness, capability, and likeability after they'd seen them:
- answer a question they'd been asked
- dodge a question they'd been asked, and answer a similar one instead
- answer a question, but stumble a bit when doing so
- avoid a question, even though the audience was being reminded of the question's exact wording
- You don't have to answer the question, but it's good to come close. Speakers who were asked about drug legalization but gave a general reply about healthcare suffered few ramifications. They were deemed just as likeable as speakers who actually answered the question. In this situation, a large portion of the audience members couldn't remember the original question anyways. Speakers who didn't come close to answering the question about drugs, and instead started speaking about the war on terror, got significantly more negative ratings.
- It's better to dodge than to fumble. Speakers who fluently answered a question that was similar-but not identical-to the one they were really asked were ranked more highly than speakers who actually answered the question but who were inarticulate, with multiple "ums" and "ahs" sprinkled throughout their answer.
- If the audience is reminded of the question, don't dodge. This might not seem like a 'real world' possibility, but the authors point out that in some televised political debates, the question that the candidate has been asked now appears on the bottom of the television screen as the candidate is answering -or fumbling-the question. In that case, viewers are much more likely to notice that someone is dodging a question, and, it seems, more likely to care.
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Kimberly Weisul is a freelance writer, editor and consultant. Follow her on twitter at www.twitter.com/weisul.