Lots of you are doing lots of seminars about the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. That’s a good thing! Audiences have all sorts of questions about the new law, and about taxes in general. Over the last couple of weeks, several members have asked me how to handle audience questions when they’re giving these presentations. So let’s talk about how to answer those questions to make your seminar presentations as effective as possible.

Start by asking yourself, “What is the purpose of this presentation?” Then make sure that everything you do during that allotted time serves that goal. Clarity of purpose is the key to making your presentations as valuable to you as possible.

And what, exactly, can you accomplish with your audience? Let’s take a quick look at some material from the TCU 202 class on Seminars That Sell:

1. You can educate them. This is important, of course. If they leave feeling like they didn’t learn anything, they’re going to feel like they wasted their time.

But educating your audience really isn’t the primary goal of the presentation, as we’ll soon see. And you need to understand that this isn’t a CE class. They don’t need to understand any of what you’re going to teach them in the same detail as you do, and they aren’t going to be tested on the material at the end of the class. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that you’re going to teach them the equivalent of an Accounting 101 class on the new law.

2. You can entertain them. This is also important. If you bore them, you’ll lose them. But you’ve got the advantage of low expectations working in your favor. Nobody sits down to a tax presentation expecting to be entertained. Let your personality shine through and you’ll clear the bar, no problem.

3. You can motivate them. This is the real purpose of most seminars – to motivate your audience to do something to take advantage of the information you’re presenting. Usually, that means setting up an appointment with you.

So. Now you understand your goal, and your need for clarity of purpose. You’re working your way through your presentation, and somebody raises a hand with a question. Ask yourself this: “Does answering this question contribute to my goal of motivating my audience to set an appointment with me?”

If the answer is yes, by all means go ahead and answer! If answering the question reveals an expensive mistake that the questioner (or anybody else in the audience) is making or might make, or exposes a pain point that you can use to establish your value, then take advantage of it. In many cases, when a prospect asks a question, they’re indirectly telling you what they’re willing to buy. Be alert for those signals, and always try to answer the answer the prospect’s real question.

But sometimes an audience member’s question can derail the discussion. You’re happily outlining (not detailing, but outlining) the new qualified business income rules, when someone asks a totally unrelated question about, say, deducting something from his business income. Even worse, it’s an obscure question, and he’s probably the only one in the audience who cares about the answer.

In that case, follow Nancy Reagan’s immortal advice and “just say no.” Tell the questioner you’ll address it privately after the presentation. Don’t let a random question derail your direction and momentum!

This is especially important if you have a limited time to make your presentation. If you have just 15 or 20 minutes, every minute counts. You shortchange yourself, and your audience, if you let someone hijack that time for a question that nobody else in the audience would benefit from hearing answered.

(Even better, this gives you one-on-one time with your questioner to demonstrate further value!)

Star Trek fans, you’ll remember the United Federation of Planets had a “Prime Directive”: “No identification of self or mission. No interference with the social development of said planet. No references to space or the fact that there are other worlds or civilizations.” (We’ll save the debate for whether that was a subtle jab at America’s 1960s foreign policy for another time. By the way, did you know that Snoopy’s World War I flying ace storyline was Charles M. Schultz’s reaction to the Vietnam War?)

Anyway, here’s the point: when you’re giving a seminar, you’ve got a Prime Directive, too. Don’t let yourself get distracted by Q’s and A’s that don’t advance your goals!

Disclaimer: This blog was previously published at TaxCoachSystem.com. Tax Coach has become Tax Master Network. We didn't want our amazing clients, readers and interested tax friends to miss any of our archived content so please forgive any broken links or various referenced to Tax Coach options. update