Q-tips: [kyoo-tipz] unsolicited criticisms disguised as genuine questions from the self-proclaimed experts in the audience.

You can pick them out of a crowd: Q-tippers stand in the question line with a huge wooden horse laden with treasured bits of wisdom in tow. Their words are sugar coated but malicious, as though they spill from the sweet tea stained lips of a Napoleonic southern belle who might use kindness instead of the French army to overtake the world. Matlock would object to their leading questions, but he’s not at your presentation, so the onus is on you to handle them.

To diffuse the situation, you have to understand the nature of Q-tipping. Before you ever walked into the room, the Q-tippers were incredulous: it should have been an internal speaker, they think, and they have themselves in mind. If you are internal, it’s worse. They’ve seen your work enough to judge you more intimately. They have enough courage to critique you in public, but not enough to do it openly.

And that’s just it: Q-tippers are annoyingly meek, in an assertive kind of way. They use the Trojan horse method because they don’t want to come off as rude while they are being rude. But, their questions are thinly veiled at best: “Don’t you think…” and, “Wouldn’t it be better…” are popular phrases across Q-tip culture. Worst of all, just like the little cotton-tipped dumbbells, Q-tips come in packs of 500 or more. Open their bag of goodies and you’ve lost control of the Q&A, one of the most valuable parts of any presentation.

Just remember: beneath that innocent visage lies a bitter, vindictive soul. But that doesn’t mean you come off righteous if you crush them. They know everything anyway. If you’ve taken 100 businesses from the courthouse steps to profitability, they’ve read 101 case studies about how to do it better. Disengagement is your best bet. Thank them for their input, and quickly press on.

The Takeaway: Keep cool, and keep your business before you. If you wanted audience feedback, you would distribute an anonymous survey at the end.

6 responses to “Term #23: Q-tips”

  1. I have seen this ugly tactic in action many a time. The worst I have ever seen though occurred at an academic conference with HR lecturers each talking about their research the (not so disguised) insults were FLYING!

    Quite ammusing to me as an obsever though.

    I think it is very obvious to the audience who is being innappropiate though, obv the Q-tipper. So I think the best policy is to remain polite, friendly and helpful.

  2. Ed,

    Thanks for sharing this example. I completely agree. The best tactic is generally just to be polite and move on.


  3. Scott,

    Dang I hate when this happens and I can spot their false humility a mile away. Gag me with a spoon!

    If you can get away, shake their hand while taking a step past them. Say, “Thanks for coming” or “Nice to meet you.” And then zip, you’re gone.

    If you can’t get away, try saying, “would somebody shoot me now!”

    Frankly, the only approach that I’ve found that works is to look them in the eye, thank them, and then excuse yourself by saying, “I’d rather be bitten by a rattle snake than listen to you.” If you’re nice you can say, those are interesting ideas. If you less nice, say nothing.


    Leadership Freak

    Dan Rockwell
    Recent blog: Purposeful Abandonment (not about Q-tips)

  4. Dan,

    Good stuff! I have found that a simple “thank you” or “I appreciate the feedback” always works. Makes it look like you care. 🙂 Just smile and nod and walk away.


  5. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by presenterslike: #23 Q-tips: Q-tips: [kyoo-tipz] unsolicited criticisms disguised as genuine questions from the self-proclaimed ex… http://bit.ly/cSCMYn

  6. Hosea Miyao says:

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by Richard Hawkesford.

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