How to deal with difficult questions

Frankie Kemp

15 January 2018

You’ve finished your presentation and now the questions are rolling in. It’s like verbal dodge ball and it’s got you ducking and diving.

Firstly, well done.  You’ve got people interested enough in the presentation to ask questions.

Next, it’s important to recognise the difference between difficult questions and difficult people.  Some just love to bathe in the attention of the speaker, and can’t quite let go.  They’ll keep trying to pull you back so you can spoil them with another answer.  You’ll feel like you’re on a bungee.

Then there are those who want to set their grievances out in public, or have their own expertise known to all and sundry.  You’ll recognise genuinely challenging questions from those simply want an answer to their query.

Below you’ll see how to deal with both the difficult questioner and the challenging questions.

  1. Should you ever find yourself being followed by a tiger, the rule of the jungle is this: DON’T LOOK BACK.  As soon as you do this, it’ll notice vulnerability and then you’re mincemeat.   With an avid questioner, once you’ve dealt with their query, sum up, break eye contact and move away, without looking back at them.   It’s a subtle but effective way of saying you’re done with this question.
  2. Many hostile or aggressive questioners are likely to be seated in any of the following areas:
    • At the back – for anonymity
    • On the speaker’s left hand side
    • In the middle – especially if the questioner is surrounded by ‘supporters’.If you have the freedom to do this, walking towards members of the audience prevents other aggressive questions.
  3. Have a microphone that’s passed around the audience. It takes time to reach people so by the time it reaches the questioner, that member of the audience would have decided whether their question needs to be asked, or edited.
  4. Ask everyone to stand up and announce their names before asking questions. This way, their anonymity is blown.
  5. Even with questions that may seem idiotic, aggressive or sarcastic, maintain grace and dignity, an audience will respect you for not being provoked and you will look more confident.
  6. Pause, B R E A T H E and look away if you need to, before answering a hostile question. This will give you time to collect your thoughts.  Then focus on eliciting the facts.  Emotion might be directed at you, but it’s unlikely to be about you.
  7. Repeating or rephrasing the question, buys you time to think up a response
  8. Your answers need to be simple and succinct. It’s not another presentation.
  9. Your presentation doesn’t actually finish until you the last question has been asked so to stop the ending dropping off, wrap the session up with your key message:  “The main point is these changes will mean that we can achieve more with less, simplifying our processes.”


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